Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Writing Magic a' la Gail Levine

It can be overwhelming for new writers to enter the fray of the writer's world. I've found the children's writing community to be especially kind, but still I do feel the inadequacies of being a newbie among more experienced and polished authors.

That's partly why I wanted to start this blog, to help myself and anyone else who may feel a little insecure about entering the world of a writer. 

One of the first books I checked out on my initial foray into serious writing was Writing Magic, by Gail Carson Levine.

I adore this book. It's written for kids, but that hasn't stopped me from loving it. I think it's fitting to use a writing book intended for a younger audience when I'm trying to write for that audience. 

Gail Levine is such a hopeful writer. I knew it was going to be a good book when I read her Writer's Oath:
"I promise solemnly:
  1. To write as often and as much as I can,
  2. to respect my writing and myself,
  3. to nurture the writing of others.
I accept these responsibilities and honor them always."
Each chapter teaches an idea: chapter 20, for example teaches about showing and telling in writing; chapter 17, the one I need right now, is how to get over being stuck in the progress of your story. 

There are 30 chapters in all and each chapter has a writing exercise at the end. The first chapter's exercise is a blast. She gives a list of first lines and then the instructions to choose one, write about it for at least 20 minutes and save it.

One example of possible choices was, "I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees truth, but the brown eye sees much, much more."

We did this exercise as a writing group and each came up with very different and compelling stories.

I loved this exercise so much, I started thinking up random first lines and writing them down. One idea sparked a story I'd never have thought of otherwise, so here goes.

Write down three first lines. Choose one and then write about it for 20 minutes. If you need some inspiration, here's some you can choose from:
  1. It’s a little creepy talking to a disembodied voice.
  2. "Pardon me," said the stranger weaving through the discounted antique furniture, "can you change a doubloon?"
  3. The world was about to end, and I couldn't find my purse.
  4. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...the very worst of times in fact...
  5. Demoted! How could I, the king's head jelly bean taster, fall so far from grace?
Still stuck? Try these creative writing exercise from the Huffington Post:

And if you just need a pep talk to get you going, try this:

As Ms. Levine advises in her book, adapt any of the ideas to suit your mood, and above all, "Have fun."

P.S. Please feel free to post your opening line ideas and a brief paragraph of what you wrote from it if you choose. 


  1. In the Writer's Oath above, I especially like #2. If we don't, who will?

    1. So true and that's often the struggle...having the confidence to know you have it in you regardless of what happens outside you. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Fun first lines! I'll have to check out Mrs. Levine's book for sure. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  3. This sounds like a great writing book! And the writer's oath is powerful. Now I'm curious which first line you wrote on :)

  4. Love that oath too. I should have said that the lines I put in the list were ones I made up, not because mine are better, Gail Levine's are hard to beat, but I didn't want to plagiarize to much.

    As for the line I chose for our writing group, I wrote on one of lines given in the book and in the interest of following up on my challenge, I'll post some of what I wrote:

    Ms. Flemming's wig had gone missing. We looked all over for it, under the parked gondola, behind the fortune teller booth, in the theatre attic, but it was gone.

    "Well, Grandma," I said. "Ms. Flemming doesn't really need a wig anyway. I mean she has enough fur on top..."

    "Oh I know dear," Grandma tutted, "but she does look so fetching with it on, and the audience just loves it."

    I was pretty sure Ms. Fleming didn't love it, but Grandma seemed too distressed to intrude reality upon her.

  5. I love this book too. Here's some of what I came up with...

    I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees truth, and the brown eye sees much, much more. I once bought a pair of dark glasses and wore them for an entire day, keeping my eyes closed and pretending to be blind. It was a relief but I couldn't keep doing it. I couldn't give up seeing colors or reading books.

    It would be easier not to see that when my father gives me a lecture on bird watching, he's really watching himself to see how impressive and knowledgeable he is, because deep down, he always feels like a loser.

    Or that my mom is so worn down by taking care of us, she has forgotten that she loves music and literature and gourmet food. She has buried it all under piles of laundry and dishes and dust.