Monique Peterson

Old Scraps, New Stories

I’m a recycler. If I can re-use, repurpose, or rework, I will.

This is especially true with paper. Perhaps it’s due to the influence of my WWII-generation family members, who repurposed materials as a matter of course, or of my witnessing too many old black walnut trees die or be cut down, or simply of my appreciating the value of ink and paper from student days when I had to choose between groceries and school supplies.

The paper in my collection ranges from 3×5 note cards with storyboarded scenes from screenplays that have never seen the light of day, to notebooks filled with research for a turn-of-the-century sports biopic, to proof pages of work-for-hire projects about pirates or fairies or the moon. If I can reprint on the back side, great. If I can reuse the blank sides of notecards for another round of storyboarding, super. And if I can redraw new characters or new stories inspired by old research – golden.

These esoteric scraps have stories of their own. And many have stories yet to come. For my birthday this year, I received new evidence of this fact, in the form of a year-long collage class. In just the first few weeks, I’ve come to an even deeper way of looking at paper, of reusing it, and of celebrating these random bits that I can translate into completely new forms. My creations are strange mash-ups of mixed media. These scraps might be water-damaged photocopies of western landscapes or cut-out shapes from an old paperback of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls or ripped pages from last year’s calendar.

Dream Catcher. Mixed media collage of fish-print wrapping paper, magazine scraps, water-damaged photocopied image, paperback book page, coin wrapper, envelope, and colored pencil. Monique Peterson, 2019.

The process has already informed my writing. In all the work there is a similar thread: story. As I place random scraps together to see what evolves, I still seek an entry and an exit for the eye – and so it is with writing. A single image, though two-dimensional, can still convey a past, a present, and a future; a sense of tension or drama; an atmosphere; an attitude. Even as I craft compositions from my scraps of paper, the images offer up characters, places, and stories that I’d like to develop further.

Suddenly, a fun scrap class has turned itself on its head for me and become an incubator for new stories. Definitely golden.

In the spirit of small bits leading to big ideas, we’ve been crafting Writing Snacks for the month of March. We’ve designed this series of quick random writing explorations as a way to break down barriers toward developing new ideas as well as to build up a practice for regular creative engagement. We invite you to see for yourself what a few scraps can do for the imagination. Click here to indulge in Writing Snacks and see what evolves.

Write-ins: 02.23.19 & 02.27.19

Drop-in gatherings for no-excuse writing.

Join us for a 90-minute stretch of focused writing in the company of familiar faces and a mid-morning nosh or beverage.

We’ll keep the first hour dedicated to pens on paper, so bring your notebook and whatever writing project is on your front burner. Not working on anything specific right now? No problem. We’ll even bring a few prompts and writing ideas to get you rolling on something new.

For those who wish to share your work or your writing process, let’s discuss! We’ll lift the silence for the last half hour.

Where:
FoxHound Espresso
317 Spring Street, Nevada City, Calif.
When:
Saturday, February 23, 2019
10:00 – 11:30 a.m.

Where:
Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli
231 Colfax Avenue, Grass Valley, Calif.
When:
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
10:00 – 11:30 a.m

Organizing Chaos

Mess. Madness. Disorder.
Where do I begin? How do I start? What do I prioritize? Help!

Sometimes the question is not How do I start? it’s How do I finish what I’ve started?

Writing is that magical moment of lovemaking with the muse. Sure! But I can’t just lie around waiting to be seduced. I have to show up for the muse in order for the muse to show up for me. The moment a wonderful burst of creativity transforms from an idea into a project, I’m committing to more than just some good times with the muse. I’m committing to a relationship beyond the honeymoon.

So, when it’s time to get serious, get organized. The more you can get to know your own writing process, the more you get to know yourself as a writer and what you are capable of, not just in terms of output, but in terms of productivity and of setting realistic goals.

Show up.
As with all actions in life, it begins with intention. Start by committing to paper what you want to do. Octavia Butler’s personal list is one of my all time favorites.

handwritten note from Octavia Butler papers
handwritten note from Octavia Butler papers, Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright, Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Break it down.
The journey begins with the first step. Start with a map! Specifically, create a writing schedule.

I took an intensive screenwriting course in which we committed to writing five screenplays in three years. With a 10-hour week writing commitment, I found it possible to write the first draft of a 90-125 page script in six weeks’ time.

No, you don’t have to quit your day job to write your novel or memoir or essay collection. You just need a schedule. Look at the calendar. Be honest. Ask, How much time can I commit to every day? 30 minutes? 2 hours? Every week 10 hours?

Commit to a weekly schedule on paper. “I will write 8 hours a week, Mon-Thurs 7-8:30am, Sunday 10-12pm.”

Define it.
Rather than say, “I’m going to write a novel,” get granular and be specific. Identify which elements of your idea you can start to shape over the next several weeks. Perhaps it’s about identifying the big picture ideas, like story outline, themes, or cast of characters. Or perhaps it’s looking at an individual chapter in which you’re establishing the narrative voice.

Commit your writing goal on paper. “I will develop my idea into a new story; including an outline, characters, theme, plot, main problem/resolution.”

Log it.
Put the commitment to practice and monitor your progress. “Week 1: I wrote 8 hours, sketched general outline, sketched three scenes with main character.”

Repeat for 6 weeks.
At the end of six weeks, re-evaluate. Ask, How well am I sticking to my time commitment? More? Less? Am I being realistic?

List your achievements.
Review what you accomplished in this time, on paper: “I wrote X number of pages/scenes/chapters. I developed X elements of my story.”

Reset, start again.
Re-commit to a new 6-week writing plan on paper. Create goals to make them reachable. Small successes add up psychologically as well as materially.

Write away.
So, how do we keep allowing ourselves to get messy in the midst of all this organization? I like to encourage the Path of Least Resistance: That which gets the ink flowing. Whatever comes to mind in a given day that I already know about my story and my characters. It’s not only OK to write out of order, it’s necessary. Does a scene toward the end pop out clearly in the mind? Write it! It’s OK if you change it later. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that I can count on just about everything changing after the first draft.

Let the mess begin! So be it! See to it!

February Words about Town






Literary goings on in and around Nevada County this month:

Storytelling

Nevada County Reads & Writes 2019

Friday, February 8, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
Nevada County Community Library
Gene Albaugh Community Room, Madelyn Helling Library
980 Helling Way
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

StoryCorps’ Listening Is an Act of Love features six stories from 10 years of the innovative oral history project.
Local memoir writers Mary Street and Judie Rae share their stories.

Saturday February 9, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Nevada County Community Library
Gene Albaugh Community Room, Madelyn Helling Library
980 Helling Way
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

Foothills Storytelling Guild launches Nevada County Reads & Writes 2019. Come hear live storytelling performance and ways to make your own stories even better.

February 18 – March 1
Nevada County Community Library
Gene Albaugh Community Room, Madelyn Helling Library
980 Helling Way
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

Application submissions accepted for StoryCorps interviewers and interviewees online or at local library branches.

Poetry

Poets Quartet

Saturday, February 9, 2:00 pm
ej gallery
408 Broad Street (In the New York Hotel mall)
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

The Poets Quartet performs “Poetry and Wild Nature” featuring poems by Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Robinson Jeffers, Joanne Kyger, H.D., and others.

Winter Poetry Hour with Molly Fisk

Wednesday, February 13, 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Flour Garden Bakery, 999 Sutton Way, Grass Valley
Come talk poetry with Nevada County’s Poet Laureate

Spoken Word

Open Mic Night

Wednesday, February 27, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Word After Word Bookshop
10118 Donner Pass Rd. #2, Truckee, Calif. 96161

Workshops

Creative Writing

Wednesdays, February 6, 13, 20, 27, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
ej gallery
408 Broad Street (In the New York Hotel mall)
Nevada City, Calif. 95959

Local poet and literary editor Iven Lourie hosts creative writing sessions inspired by art.

Going to any events? Let us know!
Have more writerly announcements to share? Please do!

My Left Hand of Darkness

16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré
16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré

I didn’t expect a hand injury to be such a big deal.

Okay, so I crushed my hand in a fall when a tree root rose up out of the ground and tackled me. Besides the fact that it happened almost exactly the way it happened to one of my fictional characters in a fantasy novel, the pain I experienced was no fantasy at all. It was very sharp, very real, and as it turns out, very lasting.

Once I got past the relief of discovering I (miraculously) didn’t break anything, the reality of the real degree of my injury—severe soft tissue damage—began to sink in. It would take weeks, maybe months, to regain full use of my hand without pain.

The kicker: it’s my right hand. Insult to injury: I work as a writer for a living.

The good news: I’m ambidextrous! This is something I’ve been telling myself since I was a child, when I didn’t understand why people favored one hand over the other when it came to cutting bread, drawing pictures, or pounding nails. I used my left hand to wield knives, pencils, and hammers just as fluidly as I used my right.

Yeah, well. That was then. In truth, I’m a soft leftie. I’m no full-blown southpaw, and I’m certainly not going to win any calligraphy contests.

What I hadn’t realized until now, was not so much how my injured hand was slowing down my ability to write—but how much it was affecting my brain.

16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré
16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré

Writing begins with the burst of an idea in my brain that my body instantly wants to activate. Since my injury, for the first time, I noticed that I could feel those fresh ideas shooting down my right arm—only to get backed up, as if in a clogged pipe.

Now, backlogged ideas are desperately seeking egress from my brain before they fade into oblivion. Old habits are hard to break, and trying to rewire my thinking to ignite my left arm to action (and with some degree of speed) has ultimately changed not just the way I write, but what ends up on the paper.

Maybe it gives me more time to edit my thoughts before they get transliterated to the page? Maybe it changes my story, as described from a left-hand perspective? Maybe it only proves that even when I can’t write, I can’t help but figure out a way to keep trying.

What is the physical act of writing, really? Maybe at the very least, it’s our brain’s great escape.

Illustration from Edwin D. Babbitt’s The Principles of Light and Color (1878)

Write-in: 01.30.19

Drop-in gatherings for no-excuse writing.

By Meister des Maréchal de Boucicaut

Join us for a 90-minute stretch of focused writing in the company of familiar faces and a mid-morning nosh or beverage.

We’ll keep the first hour dedicated to pens on paper, so bring your notebook and whatever writing project is on your front burner. Not working on anything specific right now? No problem. We’ll even bring a few prompts and writing ideas to get you rolling on something new.

For those who wish to share your work or your writing process, let’s discuss! We’ll lift the silence ban for the last half hour.

Where:
Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli
231 Colfax Avenue, Grass Valley, CA

When:
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
10:00 – 11:30 a.m.


January Words about Town






Literary goings on in and around Nevada County this month:

Spoken Word

What’s Your Nugget?

Friday, January 18, 5:00 – 6:00 pm
Saturday, January 19, 12:30 – 1:30 pm
Thursday, January 24, 8:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday, January 25, 9:30 – 10:30 pm
246 S. Church Street
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Five minutes to tell your true story based on a topic you pull out of a hat.

Workshops

The Joy of Writing

Saturday, January 12
9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Diane Covington-Carter
530-802-4224

Drop-in workshop with Rachel Howard

Friday, January 11
Noon – 2pm
For details and other classes: Yuba Writers Workshops

Sierra Writers Conference 2019

Saturday, January 26
Sierra College, Grass Valley Campus
250 Sierra College Drive
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Storytelling

The 4th annual Auburn Winter Storytelling Festival

Saturday, January 26
General Gomez Art Center
808 Lincoln Way
Auburn, CA 95603

An all-day event of storytelling stand-up, workshops, liar’s contest, children’s stories, poetry, and performance.

Going to any events? Let us know!
Have more writerly announcements to share? Please do!

My Wordless Resolution

I’ve always wanted a compilation of the forgotten words: those lost from our dictionaries and gone from our tongues. Good ones do exist, and I often wonder whether I should try and revive the sound of kexy leaves in my writing and obarmate against the loss of language, or if by so doing I would only roblet readers and possibly misqueme them.

Instead, this year, I plan to do the opposite. I’m consciously dropping a word from my spoken vocabulary.

After catching myself one too many times using the same word in recent days, I realized it had cemented itself into the shorthand crutch of my vocabulary. The word itself is not that special. It is neither vulgar nor exciting. It is neither colorful nor placid. It is nondescript if it is anything. Yet, I find that it is in its very delivery, a word utilized to convey everything, attitude and all. Or so the tone of that delivery should suggest. Somehow vague and vogue, it feels borrowed and lazy. An ordinary word whose extraordinary usage has become, well, ordinary.

So, enough of it, I say. Expunged. Here’s to using words that matter. And here’s to hoping this overt effort with my speech results in covert dexterity with my pen.

Do you use a word worth losing?

Scroll to Top