Midpoint Reflections on Find the Write Spark

Hey there, creative soul! As we’re into the second half of July, I think it’s about time to check in about Find the Write Spark 2019, don’t you?

If you haven’t heard of this before, there’s still time to join in or do your own version of the challenge! Read this blog post to find out what all the excitement is about.

As a quick recap, Find the Write Spark is a monthly challenge where we take passages written by some of our favourite authors; transcribe them word-by-word onto a fresh sheet of paper or electronic document, paying attention all the while to the effect created by the choice of words, sentence structure, and so on; and then rewrite the passages in a whole new way.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the challenge on Instagram and am having so much fun seeing the books that other writers have chosen and even some of the rewritten passages! Here's one of the posts I saw recently (alternatively, you can check out the hashtag #findthewritespark2019):

My own version of the challenge has changed shape a little (as you might have guessed by the fact that I haven’t done this update until now). On the bright side, I’m getting even more out of it than I thought I would!

Let’s jump into a few things I’ve learned so far that might help you, too.

Prepare to Be Flexible

I was all hyped up and ready to do three separate passages each day of July. No problem, right?

*cue obnoxious buzzer sound*

It might have been doable if this had been a more low-key month, but with everything I’ve had going on (99% of it wonderful, 1% of it being a summer cold) combined with the approach I started taking to each passage (more on that soon), three passages a day was too ambitious. I felt like I was doing it to fill a quota, and it became stressful rather than a thoughtful, genuine learning experience.

It took me a little too long to realise this, so I spent the first part of the month overwhelmed by the task I’d set myself and putting it off and then trying to do a few days at once.

Not good. Please don’t do this. It was kind of fun at first, and then it just got more overwhelming, though I still adored my chosen books.

By the time I decided to do one passage a day instead of three, I was drastically behind and embarrassed at how badly I’d flubbed my own challenge, until I realised how ridiculous it was to get upset about a number that was just an educated-ish guess to begin with. This challenge was created in a flurry of creative excitement. It's not meant to be overly structured and taxing.

I needed to focus on what’s important about the challenge, not how I wanted it (or me) to appear.

Truth be told, I love the passages I’ve done so far. They’ve been a fantastic experience both in trying out different writing styles and getting to know new things about my characters (which is like catnip to me).

Also, there are eleven days left in July. That’s eleven passages I can still do! Eleven more opportunities to learn and explore!

If you, too, found yourself overwhelmed by the challenge, and maybe even gave it up, please give it a second chance. You can mould it into whatever you want it to be. Paring it down drastically may both revive the joy and open the necessary space to learn something valuable from your passages of choice.

Challenge Takeaway #1

Don't cling to your original plan if it's no longer serving you.  If you're curious to see what happens if you speed up or slow down, go for it!

A Writing Challenge Can Rejuvenate Your Work-in-Progress

When I first imagined how I’d approach this challenge, I planned to use each passage as a writing prompt and see where it led me.

If it was unknown territory with completely new characters and storylines, that was great.

If it was the familiar stomping grounds of my established characters and stories, that was awesome, too.

Little did I know how enthralled I would be by rewriting the passages as if they were in my own stories. I’ve rewritten passages to include my current main characters, past versions of characters from future books, and even childhood versions of some of my characters (when rewriting passages from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown). Find the Write Spark has given me a better look into the relationships between my characters and how they view the world.

This is another reason why I chose to move from three passages a day to one. Choosing which characters would best suit the passage has been such an enjoyable part of the process, I don't want to rush it. It gives me a bit of time to ponder what I've written and discovered, too.

So far, I think I’ve only rewritten one passage with new-to-me characters. I tried, and I do enjoy how that passage turned out, but it’s just not where my heart is with this challenge.

Considering all this alongside the fact that I’m feeling freer and more confident with writing in general (emails, blog posts, you name it), this challenge already feels like a triumph, and we’re not even at the finish line yet!

Challenge Takeaway #2

If you haven't enjoyed using spur-of-the-moment characters and situations in your rewrites, use your own instead, even if they're not a perfect fit for the passage! It'll encourage your creativity and showcase different sides of your story.

Not All Books Are Created Equal for Every Challenge

Not every book you chose may fit the bill for this challenge, and you might not know until you try it. I must have spent a good twenty minutes flipping through Tamora Pierce’s Lady Knight, searching frantically for a passage that felt challenge-worthy.

Nothing did.

It’s not because she’s a poor writer, obviously, and Lady Knight remains one of my favourite stories of hers. It was just too different from the kind of novels I’m writing at the moment. The stories I’m writing are contemporary adult fiction with a generous helping of romance. The struggles Keladry faces in this fantasy novel about her first command post as a full-fledged knight are too far afield of what I’m writing about.

I could have used this book quite easily if I was doing this challenge with spur-of-the-moment characters and situations for the rewrites, but, like I mentioned above, that’s not what I’m enjoying and benefiting from this time around. I’ll be keeping it in mind for next year, however!

Challenge Takeaway #3

If your book list isn't cutting it, make a change. You can make small shifts, like switching to a different series by the same author, or major ones, like swapping authors.

Before-and-After Passages

I love seeing examples of people’s progress through challenges like Find the Write Spark, so I picked a couple of favourite passages from my own challenge so far. I've included a brief explanation of the direction I took for each rewrite, as well.

Before, from Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater:

Sam’s expression turned a bit wistful, but he led me through the underbrush, up a gradual hill. As he promised, it got better. The thorns thinned out and the trees grew taller and straighter, their branches not beginning until a few feet over our heads. The white, peeled bark of the birches looked buttery in the long, slanting afternoon light, and their leaves were a delicate gold. I turned to Sam, and his eyes reflected the same brilliant yellow back at me.

For my rewrite of the Shiver passage, I melded it with a scene idea I've had before:

Griffin’s expression turned a bit guarded, but he took my hand and let me lead him through the parking lot, past the abandoned ticket counter. The highway noise faded and the night grew quiet, the stars lighting our way from their perch in the sky. The dingy white mass of a screen looked bright in the moonlight, a shadow cast from a rogue tree on the left edge, and it waited. I turned to Griffin, and his eyes shone: with the light reflecting off the screen or the same memories that played in my mind, I couldn’t be sure.

Before, from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery:

Mr. Phillips was back in the corner explaining a problem in algebra to Prissy Andrews and the rest of the scholars were doing pretty much as they pleased, eating green apples, whispering, drawing pictures on their slates, and driving crickets, harnessed to strings, up and down the aisle. Gilbert Blythe was trying to make Anne Shirley look at him and failing utterly, because Anne was at that moment totally oblivious, not only of the very existence of Gilbert Blythe, but of every other scholar in Avonlea school and of Avonlea school itself. With her chin propped on her hands and her eyes fixed on the blue glimpse of the Lake of Shining Waters that the west window afforded, she was far away in a gorgeous dreamland, hearing and seeing nothing save her own wonderful visions.

My rewrite of the Anne of Green Gables passage dove into my main character's past, transforming Anne's daydreaming into a glimpse at the beginning of Alice's struggles with depression:

Mr. Andrews was back in the corner explaining a problem in algebra to Lucy Stiles and the rest of her classmates were doing pretty much as they ought to, lending pens, whispering about the assignment, doodling “helpful” notes in the margins of their paper, and experimenting with how eloquently they could program their calculators to respond to their queries. Griffin was trying to catch Alice’s attention and failing utterly, because Alice was at that moment totally oblivious, not only of the very existence of Griffin, but of every other classmate and of the classroom itself. With her forehead cradled in her hands and her eyes fixed on the blur of figures on the paper sitting on her desk, she was far away in a barren galaxy, hearing and seeing nothing save the vastness of something she had no idea how to face.

The Fun Carries On!

And there we have it! There’s still a good deal of the month left to go, so let’s finish strong, shall we? I’d love to hear how the challenge is going for you, so feel free to drop a note in the comments below, sharing your favourite part of the challenge so far, what you’ve been focusing on, or something that’s helped you. You can even include one of your before-and-afters, if you like!

A wee follow-up note: I had originally planned to write an extensive wrap-up post for Find the Write Spark 2019. Even though I didn't quite finish the challenge, I had some stellar breakthroughs ...

I learned that writing more descriptively (my Achilles heel) can be fun and occasionally delightful! The challenge gave me more confidence in my abilities as a writer, and even my nonfiction writing got a boost. My notebook was constantly at hand because I couldn't stop coming up with innovative ideas for pretty much any dilemma, fiction or non, writing or otherwise, that came up during the challenge and the following weeks.

That being said, it was my first time running a challenge, and I admit I got a little overexcited and intimidated by the process, to the point where I talked myself out of writing the wrap-up because I didn't know if I could do it justice! *grins bashfully* Welcome to my human side, creative soul. ;)

I hope you enjoyed Find the Write Spark! If you try this yourself another year, I'd love to hear how it goes!

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