Teachers Write 7/25/14 – Friday Feature with Kat Yeh

Happy Friday, everyone!  You’ll want to visit Gae’s blog for Friday Feedback today. Even if you’re not quite ready to share, it’s so interesting to see what others are sharing and how it’s being critiqued. Check it out; you’ll learn a lot.

We also have a Friday Feature today – “Letting It Go,” with guest author Kat Yeh.

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Kat  grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing — while writing for herself in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water everyday and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of children’s books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME, Random House Books for Young Readers (2009), THE MAGIC BRUSH: A STORY OF LOVE, FAMILY, AND CHINESE CHARACTERS, Walker Books for Young Readers (2011), and THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (coming January 2015!), and THE FRIEND SHIP, Disney-Hyperion (coming 2016)!

Letting It Go

When it comes to writing, like the song says: Let it go.

I admit that the first time I heard this song, I wept a little weep.

Letting go is a hard thing for me. And in writing, it means two particular things.

 

Let it go.

First of all, it means to put away all plans. All lessons. All outlines. All preconceived ideas. Actually allowing yourself to write without a goal or destination. Do not ask Do I need to begin with a scene that establishes my protagonist’s motive? No. Let it go. Allow yourself to play. It’s during this loose, unstructured time that you just may discover the little jewels that become the heart of your story.

When I first began writing what would become my middle grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, I knew very little about it. Okay. Honestly, I knew nothing about the story or my main character. Zero. All I knew was I wanted to write a book about food. And family. And probably love. I had no plot. I had no outline. All I had was an idea. Kinda. I thought that Twinkie Pie would be a fun recipe to open a novel with. I’d never had it. I had no idea what the actual recipe was, but I liked the sound of it. So, I opened up a big blank document and just — let it go. I made up a recipe. I wrote without agenda. No rules. No judgment. No expectations. Whatever came out was written down. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote a whole lot of terrible stuff that made no sense and did not live to see another draft. But in the middle of all that letting go, I also wrote these few lines. Here they are pulled directly out of those messy first pages — misspellings and all:

“…this way, the cherry juice gets all soaked up by the twinkies and the creamy centers turn this beautiful shade of pinky-red – just like revlons cherrys in the snow lipstick. That was my mom’s favorite lipstick shade and the only one she’d ever wear. Why, if she walked into a drugstore and they were out of Cherries in the Snow, she walk right out and down the street to the next store and the next and the next.”

I remember this moment, because I stopped dead in my tracks.

Something had happened.

 

I went back and deleted “mom” and changed it to “Mama.”

And, suddenly, I had a voice.

I saw that I had written about my main character’s mother in the past tense. With a little wistfulness and longing and pride. When I look back, I realize that the entire plot and heart of this story that I love so dearly came from a moment of writing where I didn’t plan anything. I just let go and wrote. That one line led to everything else. I honestly don’t think it would have happened if I had had a plan.

 

Then next part of Letting It Go is harder for me.

 

Let it go.

It means letting go of the ironclad grip I keep on the many, many crossbars and dead bolts that guard the way to my heart. See — right there — how dramatic I am? This is the kind of thing I usually like to keep behind the locked door. Letting go of what’s inside. It’s a hard thing to do when you are a deeply private person. And I know the story is not actually my own story. And I am not any of the characters. Nor have I had their experiences. But, this book. Oh, this book is so me and so my heart. And I’m not really sure how to tell anyone else how to let that part of you go — but I can tell you what I do.

I take a deep brave breath. And then I take what I’ve written to places that scare me a little. I put it all there on the page for the world to see and let it go….

Feelings of Not Fitting In.

Wishing I could reinvent myself

Wishing for Impossible things

I let go of how I’m just a big cheesy crybaby in love with love.

I let go of the weird quirky humor that I never think anyone else will ever get.

I let go of how I’m probably Too Much and so everything I write will probably be Too Much, but that’s just the way it is.

I let it all go and it’s out there now.

And what I thought was going to be a few years of my life spent writing a novel about food and family and probably love became something more. It became a lesson in learning how to Let It Go. Everyone has their own personal door with their varying degrees of dead bolt needs. These are mine. I encourage you to open yours.

 

As I find myself currently working on my second novel, I realize that I have not completely Let It Go yet. The crossbars and dead bolts are still in place and my heart is still safe from all heart-hurting things. But I know it will happen. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Because I do not want to write a safe book that shows nothing of my heart. I’m going to Let It Go. After I take another deep brave breath.

Any minute now.

 

Note from Kate: I love this post and am bookmarking it. Also, I think you should all watch this now. Happy Friday!

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36 Comments

  1. Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    absolutely beautiful! thank you so very much for stopping in to share with us.

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      thank YOU and best of luck with your writing!

  2. Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    This is such great advice! Thanks for the reminder.

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Andrea – so glad it can be of help 🙂

  3. Posted July 25, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Your post was a perfect reminder to me as I sit on our last day of vacation trying to “get back into” the post I never quite finished yesterday. You made me smile because I simply need to “Let it Go” and write what’s on my heart in THIS moment which is how kind the worker at Duck Donuts was last night to my son. Yes… I think THAT is what I should write about today. And write and write and write no matter how many superflous words I choose to use. If I finish today, I will post a link! Thanks again for permission to simply WRITE!

  4. Posted July 25, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Ok! I let it go and here it is! http://celebratekindness.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/random-act-of-kindness-duck-donuts/. Thanks for all your support as we learn and grown with our writing!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Tamara – this is awesome – can’t wait to read! (way to put your money where your mouth is – there really is nothing like Announcing Your Intentions, right? Incentive to really follow through)

    • Tammy Petty Conrad
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Super, now I’m hungrier than I already was!

  5. Posted July 25, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I absolutely love this post! I have a habit of overthinking things which leads to getting nothing accomplished when it comes to writing or even beginning to write. I will “let it go” and unlock a few deadbolts. Thank you Kat for this post and your time. Thank you Kate for heading Teachers Write, an awesome development opportunity.

  6. Jane
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. I so needed to hear this today!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      You’re so welcome, Jane. 🙂

  7. Matt Little
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Such wonderful, well-timed inspiration! Thank you!

  8. Kat Yeh
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome, Matt – best of luck with your writing!

  9. Terry
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Kat. Really lovely words. Thank you for sharing the moment your book came alive.

    I feel cheesy anytime I like a quote, but here’s one anyway (since you were kind and generous with yourself), from Kay Ryan (former US Poet Laureate):
    “I realized that whatever we do or don’t do, we’re utterly exposed.”
    I try to remember that, and take courage to do, since it exposes me for what I care about, rather than the absence of it.

    While I was trying to relocate the exact quote, I also came across this one from Kay Ryan, which made me laugh out loud: “Failure: the renewable resource.”

    Terry

    • Tammy Petty Conrad
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Love the 2nd quote the best!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Terry – and I like what you’re saying about being exposed for what you care about rather than the absence of it.

  10. Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Kat: Learning and growing every day is so important. And that is what I feel I did after reading your encouraging post. I, too, can be very private. Your words of encouragement, Let It Go, is so important as I enjoy reading, writing and creating. Thank you. ~Suzy

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Suzy – best of luck with your writing!

  11. Tammy Petty Conrad
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Super post, very inspiring and very giving of you. And I loved the video. I’ve seen it before, but it took on a whole new meaning after reading the post. I even imagined that I saw the singer getting more relaxed and comfortable as the song went on and she started Letting it Go!

    Here’s me opening up myself to the world (for fun): Am I the only one who thinks that ice cream tastes better when eaten straight out of the carton with a big serving spoon? And I’m sure that it is fewer calories than if I used a bowl. They don’t list the calories by the teaspoon because there are so few of them.

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Tammy and I am a fan of eating with a big serving spoon – funny i have a scene where my protagonist does that with a banana pudding 🙂

  12. Tracy
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    What a great lesson to learn and share. As I was writing earlier today I was thinking how I wasn’t even sure what my point was going to be. But I heard a character’s voice and kept going. Thanks Kat!

  13. Beth Sanderson
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing Kat. Is Cherries in the Snow a real lipstick color? If so, I must get it. What a wonderful name and a great sliver of text to share.

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Beth – and yes! Cherries in the Snow is made by Revlon – my mom used to wear it (and now I have it too)

  14. Posted July 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Taylisha and I are walking through the grocery store aisles, getting ingredients for her mother’s cookout tomorrow. This is a different dance. Uncomfortable. Girls had always just gravitated towards me in the past. Well, I thought it was me. Now I see it was more the persona I had created. I really don’t know how to connect. I don’t know how to tell if she likes me. Is her attention a charity? I’m I a wounded project that she throws herself into like the kids down at the youth center? Or is she drawn the the authentic me that is awkwardly emerging, unsure of what I am becoming?

    Her words come easy, but I mostly listen. I’ve never struggled with conversation before, but of course, I’m not sure if I ever really conversed with girls. Looking back, I’m starting to see that in those relationships, any talking, or ‘affections’ we shared, were all centered on what I wanted. I still had all the emotional gear on, shielded from injury. Shielded from vulnerability.

    But Taylisha is not into games. She speaks her mind, and takes no prisoners. As we load the bags into the car, she elbows me.

    “Everett, speak up dude. You’re mullin’ something over fierce inside.”

    Time to leap.

    “Tay, would you want to grab a bite with me on Saturday night?”

    “What are you talking about? We’ve been hanging out for the past few weeks. … Wait a minute. Everett, are you asking me out on a date? No, uh-uh. You look me in the eyes and ask me that again.”

    Standing a bit straighter, I ask again.

    “Listen dude. I like you. We’re cool together. But I haven’t even thought about you like that. To be honest, I’m not really looking for any drama in my life, and I’m not sure you’re in a place for any kind of dating relationship.”

    I tried to hide my embarrassment as I drove her home, but I was stung. I felt so foolish, risking this burgeoning friendship on a silly whim. But Tay didn’t let me wallow. Placing her hand on my forearm, she giggled “Now don’t go getting all awkward on me. We’re still cool. You come by tonight after 7 with your journal and we’ll share some of our writing together. Deal?”

    • Terry
      Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      Dear Greg-
      I just found your hidden Friday Feedback over here and I don’t want you to miss out on a critique.

      The emotion of the last two paragraphs is terrific. Those moments of raw embarrassment really stick with you in life. I love that you immediately have Taylisha address it (giggled? hm) and put salve on the wound. It feels like a significant friendship and it would be annoying to jumble it up with too much ego bruising.

      I am worried about the internal dialog in the first two paragraphs. The language seems very mature for a teenager to me. Not that I think these aren’t emotions a teen would have, but his sophisticated and insightful questioning of his former life seems too bogged down.

      This section really picks up with the dialogue and I wonder if perhaps interspersing Taylisha commenting on groceries and the cookout might be a way to break up the interior conversation a little. She comments on lemonade, he wonders if anyone ever liked him for himself. She picks up buns, and I’m stopping there because inappropriate comments are way too easy. Must be time for bed.

      Terry

      • Posted July 26, 2014 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        Terry,
        Thank you for the insights and feedback. I think your points are valid and helpful. The maturity of Everett sharing his thoughts has to be reconsidered, and a dialogue between the two would help the pacing here.
        Thanks as always!

    • Posted July 26, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Greg, I agree with Terry’s suggestion that about the dialogue not quite working, but I absolutely want to know more about what or who has damaged Everett. Also, I think you have really captured Taylisha’s personality.

  15. Terry
    Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Dear Greg-
    I just found your hidden Friday Feedback over here and I don’t want you to miss out on a critique.

    The emotion of the last two paragraphs is terrific. Those moments of raw embarrassment really stick with you in life. I love that you immediately have Taylisha address it (giggled? hm) and put salve on the wound. It feels like a significant friendship and it would be annoying to jumble it up with too much ego bruising.

    I am worried about the internal dialog in the first two paragraphs. The language seems very mature for a teenager to me. Not that I think these aren’t emotions a teen would have, but his sophisticated and insightful questioning of his former life seems too bogged down.

    This section really picks up with the dialogue and I wonder if perhaps interspersing Taylisha commenting on groceries and the cookout might be a way to break up the interior conversation a little. She comments on lemonade, he wonders if anyone ever liked him for himself. She picks up buns, and I’m stopping there because inappropriate comments are way too easy. Must be time for bed.

    Terry

  16. Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for posting this today! I am a few days behind in my TW writing but I have really been wrestling with this idea of writing things that scare me. My secrets. I know I have a work of fiction in me and that one day I will let it out. Thank you for encouraging us to let it go!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Good luck with your writing! You can do it!

  17. Andrea P.
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Dear Kat,
    I almost cried when I read your post! What incredible timing.

    I’ve been working on this novel for many years (I’ve lost count). I call it my practice novel. I have no idea what I’m doing. It has morphed from one topic to the next, completely different stories from one year to the next. The constant has been the main character. Before I read your post, I sat down today and wrote this brief description of my story so far this year:

    Twelve year old Kateri finishes her 6th grade school year with hope and dreams. Her year was filled with doctor appointments, hospital visits, and chemotherapy. She finally starts back to school half-days, and meets a new girl. Gemma also struggles with a physical ailment that causes baldness. The two bald girls become friends and discover they’ve had a special connection all along but didn’t realize it.
    Kateri struggles with her need to “be normal” and enjoy life. Gemma distracts her new friend by taking her on adventures, exploring nature and helping her to live an exciting life.

    As I re-read my paragraph, I felt like I didn’t quite “let it all go”, too vague, not even on track with my original idea of a story. I wrote 8 new chapters this year and wanted to connect them with the old manuscript. I finally did make the bridge and I thought I was in a good place. But, the more I revised, the more I wanted to throw it all away. I didn’t want it to be about cancer. I wanted it to be about life and living, and being grateful. But, then my drafts took me back to the disease. I’ve been on this winding journey…to nowhere.

    And then I read your post. It was as if you were talking right to me- so weird! (BTW my character’s nickname is Kat) Finding “the voice” to tell the story is so difficult. I loved what you wrote and will definitely come back to this to keep me moving forward.

    And, it’s always motivating to read other comments, too. There are so many wonderful teacher-writers! Very inspiring- keeps me coming back.

    Thank you!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I know exactly where you’re coming from. I am struggling with my current WIP and i KNOW it can be more. I just have to get to That Place. And I know I will – you will too. Keep going and good luck! It sounds like an amazing start – I imagine when it is filled with your heart and you are (if you are like me) weeping as you write, you’ll be there.

  18. Posted July 28, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    This is absolutely beautiful, Kat. And absolutely true. True to self, true to craft, true to you, true to other. Thank you.

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 29, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Emma 🙂

  19. Posted July 29, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    This is an inspirational & thoughtful post. I, too, know very little about my WIP, but now feel braver to let it go. Thank you!

    • Kat Yeh
      Posted July 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Frances – best of luck!

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