I’ve always loved Dr. Suess stories for their cadence, their imagination, their colorful imagery. When my boys were young, I read to them most nights before they went to sleep. The most enjoyable stories were often from Dr. Suess, which somehow seemed a step above the others. As Twain put it, “the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
About a year ago, I decided I would try my hand at writing something similar in rhyming couplet, a form of poetry I’ve enjoyed ever since college when I wrote the take-home final exam for a class called “Wordsworth and Pope” in this manner. I got an A on that paper, and hoped I might be able to do it again.
So, I thought about it and began to write. I managed to complete five or six paragraphs when my nosy nine-year-old daughter walked into the room and draped herself over my left shoulder as I desperately searched my brain for a word to rhyme with “bound.” After a minute, she asked what I was writing and then asked me to read it to her.
“It’s not finished yet, sweetie,” I said, in a feeble attempt to ward off her inquisition so I could get back to work.
“That’s ok, daddy,” she replied. “I don’t mind. I just want to hear it.” So, I read it to her.
“I wish you could bring this into school and read it to my class,” she said.
“Do you think they would like it?” I asked, with my interest now piqued (someone might actually enjoy something I wrote!)
“Definitely,” she said. “It’s funny. I like the people in it. And it’s just so . . . well, it’s got a lot of . . . I don’t know, dad! I just like it and think they will too.”
I didn’t realize it then, but her response on that day began an exercise for me that perfectly defines the essence of what it means to be a productive writer. (By “productive writer”, I don’t mean that you make a gazillion dollars selling your stuff. That would be great, mind you, but it’s not really very likely. And that shouldn’t stop you from writing something you’re proud to read to others, anyway.)
I promised to complete the piece before her class broke for Summer break, about eight months away. This meant I had to get down to it if I had any chance in hell of completing it in time. Once this realization sank in, I was soon greeted by the usual entourage of excuses that we all allow into the room: “Where will I find the time? I already have a full time job”; “It will take away from time with my family”; “I don’t really know if I can do this. I’ve never done it before”; “What if, in the end, it sucks? I will have wasted all that effort.”
And so on. I listened to each such reasonable concern as it entered my brain, nodded to each in recognition of its existence, stood them all in a straight line in front of me and summarily dismissed them all.
This wasn’t about me, in the end. It was about a promise I had made to my daughter. And that was motivation enough for me to get on with it. I had the basics. I had an idea. I had a couple paragraphs. I had the desire to do it. I had at least a little experience with rhyming couplets.
I didn’t need anything else except the discipline to sit my ass down and bang out as much of it as I could in the time I had to do it.
So I began to wake up in the mornings just after 5 am, sit down at my computer, and write. It was quiet, I was situated in another room where I would not disturb any of the hybernating inhabitants of my household, and I could write and rewrite in relative peace. I only had about an hour before I had to shower, change and get out of the house to go to my real job, so I had to focus.
I did this nearly every weekday for the better part of eight months and have to admit the exercise was one of the most personally fulfilling things I’ve done in a long time. All the planets aligned:
Keep promise to daughter, check;
Develop a fiction story from start to finish, check;
Hone your craft by writing and rewriting, check;
Try to mimic the form and function of a master story teller, check.
I managed to complete the piece in time–all 1,422 words of it–and read it to my daughter’s fourth-grade class before they broke for Summer. As she had so intuitively pointed out months before, they liked it.
Called “Dinosaur Shoes”, I plan to regularly publish on this blog five or six paragraphs at a time to see what people think of it. I encourage all feedback, good or bad. I can handle it, so don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m most interested in whether the words, cadence, storyline manage to generate a vivid and detailed picture in the mind’s eye that an illustrator could easily turn into a real picture. So, here we go. Here are the first five paragraphs of my story, “Dinosaur Shoes”:
It was late in the morning, early this week
When Billy Bigbannan awoke from his sleep.
He rubbed his blue eyes and scratched his brown head,
And pulled himself slowly from out of his bed.
Then all of a sudden, it flashed without warning;
A brilliant idea filled his brain on that morning.
He now found the answer! He could fix the green feet,
Of his dinosaur friend who called himself Pete.
He jumped out of bed, grabbed his clothes and his pack,
And hopped on his bicycle parked out in back;
He had to find Pete and tell him the news:
All that he needed were Dinosaur Shoes!
Pete was a very large Ankylosaurus
With a brother named Jim and a sister named Doris.
But Pete was not like other Ankylosaurs
His feet were quite different, although just as large.
They first met when Billy ran over Pete’s tail
While riding his bike along Too Taffy Trail;
He hit with a clunk, a crash and a fall;
He felt like he hit a solid brick wall;