Add Questions to Your Writer Tool Kit by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

#WhoDressesGod? #blogtour #booksontour #day4

I love how Teena Raffa-Mulligan takes inspiration from the curious perspective of a child, and uses this knowledge to formulate her own questions as an essential part of her writer tool kit. You’ll want to follow in pursuit! Here’s how…


My picture book Who Dresses God? was inspired by that question from my then three-year-old daughter, who also wanted to know who looked after Him and how He could see, hear and speak without eyes, ears and nose. The story is based around a conversation between a child and her mother as they walk to kindy one morning, and follows a simple rhyming question and answer format.

Our children ask questions – it’s as natural to them as breathing and parents and caregivers who want to nurture that wonderful sense of curiosity about the world and all that is in it will always do their best to answer, as I did at the time.

For writers who share their lives with young children, this constant barrage of questions can be a wonderful source of inspiration for poems and stories. There’s something quite magical about the way a child perceives the world.
However, questions do more than inspire ideas for me, they are an essential part of my writer’s tool kit.

I clarify my intentions by asking myself questions such as, ‘Why are you writing?’, ‘Are you writing for yourself or an audience of readers?’ and ‘Who are your intended readers?’

When writing feels like climbing Mount Everest backwards, I can’t find the right words and those I do use misbehave on the page, that’s the signal for a serious self-inquisition: What’s really going on here? What’s the problem? What are you afraid of? Failure?

I also use questions when I’m developing an idea to the next level. This is the way I explain it when I’m chatting with children about writing stories:

“Ideas are the seeds of my stories. If a gardener were to scatter seeds in dry earth, then go away and forget about them, they would be unlikely to take shoot. If they did, they wouldn’t grow into strong, healthy plants. For them to do that, they need attention. Questions are the fertiliser for our story ideas. They help them to grow, thrive and bloom into beautiful stories.”

Simple! The best thing is, it works, because when you answer one question about your character, setting or plot, it usually leads to another…then another…and another. Soon you know enough to get on with writing the story. If you get stuck, you ask a few more questions.

During my years as a journalist I wrote news reports based on the ‘who, what, where, when, why and what will happen next?’ approach. When writing fiction for children and adults, asking myself questions as part of the writing process helps me to flesh out my vague initial ideas so they don’t drift away through lack of attention.

Most of this questioning process takes place mentally for me as I go about my everyday activities and I don’t write notes, but for some people it would probably work better to do use a big sheet of paper or work on the computer.

Here’s a fun activity you might like to try:

Writing by hand with your dominant hand, ask yourself a question about yourself, one of your characters or what happens next in your current WIP. Then swap the pen or pencil to your non-dominant hand and write the response without consciously thinking about it. The answer will often be quite a surprise. Sometimes this practice can trigger an unexpected burst of creativity – I’m right-handed, yet I wrote two short poems in a matter of minutes with my left hand.

For any writer the key questions, of course, are always, ‘Will a publisher give me a contract for this book?’ and ‘Will readers love it?

Unfortunately I haven’t devised a foolproof technique to answer them.

Teena Raffa-Mulligan: website | blog | facebook | twitter | instagram

Who Dresses God?: website | Boomerang Books

 

A beautiful and insightful interview is happening with Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Maureen Eppen at her blog, Shelf Aware. Check it out! 😇


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