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What color is your balloon?

Photobucket [1]Therese here. Please welcome Amy Nathan [2] to Writer Unboxed. Amy was a quarter-finalist in our search for an unpublished contributor. In her application, Amy wrote:

I have published first person essays and columns in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Online, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune Online, The Washington Post Online, Chicago Parent, A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers and more than a dozen journals and regional parenting magazines nationwide. The links to many of these essays are here: http://amysuenathan.com/online-clips/ [3]. I have written several long-term online columns for GNMP Parents and The Imperfect Parent. I’ve also appeared on nationally syndicated radio.

In the Fall of 2009 my short story, Bubbe and the iPhone, was published on Scribblers on the Roof (http://www.jscribes.com/bubbe-and-the-iphone/ [4]). To date, it is my only published fiction…My goal is to be a working, published novelist.

Since that time, Amy has become the editor of STET! The Backspace blog [5] and the Backspace monthly newsletter. Her short story, The Kindness of Neighbors, will be published in the Spring editions of the Grey Sparrow Journal [6].

We really enjoyed Amy’s essay–about stretching yourself–and were charmed by her tip. Enjoy!

What color is your balloon?

By Amy Sue Nathan

I wrote, rewrote, proofread and edited my story. Three times. I typed ‘The End’ and then with a writerly sigh and a wink, emailed my fifteen-hundred-word short story to my best reader-friend.

“It’s really good, Ame” she said over the phone.  “But I want, well, I really want more.”

Who did she think she was? Oliver Twist?  I replied as eloquently as possible. I was, after all, a writer, wordsmith and lover of language.

“Huh?” I said.

Until that time, my published writing had ranged from six-hundred-fifty to one thousand words.  I had never written anything longer. Had she missed those additional five hundred words? Perhaps her version of Word didn’t have a counter.

I printed out my story and stared at the first page. I turned it upside-down, read it with one eye closed and read it aloud. Then, I read it aloud with one eye closed. I knew what the story needed and was up for the challenge but didn’t know how to start.  The thought overwhelmed me. Then, because when writing didn’t work, doodling did, I uncapped my favorite, fine-line blue marker and drew a circle around the first paragraph. (I’m that delicate balance of procrastinator meets visual-learner.)

And that’s when I saw a blue balloon.

That first paragraph separated from the rest of the page as deflated blue balloon needing enough air to make it round, but not so much that it would burst.  So, with short, precise breaths I exhaled into that first blue balloon and then the ones that followed. I meticulously added detail, emotion and meaning, all the while holding tight to the story so it didn’t drift away.

Those fifteen hundred words became three thousand.  And eventually the story was published.

At one time I did not believe I could write more than one thousand words.  Then for a while I thought three thousand was my limit. I’m happy someone had the insight, faith and chutzpah to ask me for more.

I’m even happier that I had more to give.

It’s now four years, many blue balloons, essays, stories and one seventy-seven-thousand-word, yet-to-be-published novel later.  So, when writing friends and colleagues ask for advice (and sometimes when they don’t ask) I suggest looking at each paragraph as a deflated balloon.  Just try it, I tell them. It doesn’t have to be blue.  Go wild.  Pick any color at all.

And it’s still my best advice to myself. When my writing needs a little (or a lot) of something, I automatically see each paragraph as a floppy, blue balloon. Then, I take a deep breath and huff and puff just enough of the right words to evoke the images and emotions I had truly hoped for.

And then not only is the page filled up, but so am I.

What color would your balloon be? And, what’s your favorite tip, trick or advice for trying something new or getting over a speed bump when writing?