Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Plunk and Play Method

My youngest daughter is a piano player. Oh, she's not the willing sort. In fact, many times she's wanted to quit. (And, in fact, for a year she did.) But whereas when my other three children quit, they never returned to even look at the keyboard, my youngest was always drawn back to the piano. When she was angry or sad, plunking on the ivories revived her spirit. So, just recently the whole family begged her to start lessons again.
The funny thing--and I watch it every week--is she will moan and groan about the new piece her teacher has given her. When she does finally sit down, she'll spend many agonizing hours figuring out the different parts of the song. After a couple of days, though, she'll be whizzing through that song, playing it as if the notes were an extension of her soul.
Until the next lesson. Then the process begins again.
I was reminded of this process on Sunday night as she played the latest Russian waltz. I hate Sundays (It means the end of playtime.) But this past Sunday was even worse, because I was at a juncture in my story in which I didn't know what to do next.
Monday I got up thinking of my daughter struggling with her new piece and how she eventually figures it out. I sat down at my computer. But instead of opening the story and beginning at the beginning of the chapter --my normal routine-- I wrote down whatever was inside my head. Some thoughts were for the beginning of the chapter, some dialogue was for the end, and some stuff didn't even go until the end of the story. It felt strange--a lot of plunking here and there. But, Tuesday, when I went back to make sense of all the parts I'd plunked down, I was whizzing away. Whereas I normally need all the time the kids are at school to reach my daily writing goal--this week, with this new process--I zoomed through the material. My soul was singing. I actually got up and did a little dance.
Okay, to be honest, this wasn't an entirely new process. I've taken workshops on letting your conscious flow through your fingers, writing whatever comes to you. But that always seemed a little New Agey for me. Besides, if I wrote whatever came to mind, there would be so many random thoughts involved-- we need more dogfood, Book Club Expo is right around the corner, I loved John Nathan's book on Japan --that I'd never get to my story.
I tried a modified version of this stream of consciousness writing with My Half of the Sky. But again I was almost afraid of it--more prone to sticking to some school lesson I must have been taught and which was now a part of my genetic make-up: begin at the beginning. But this past week, after whizzing through my writing --and even having enough time to go buy dogfood before school got out-- I've now been converted to the Plunk and Play method.

**Congratulations to my dear friend, Becky Levine. She just landed a contract with Writers Digest to do a book on the value of critique groups. It's due out end of next year. Yeah.

**The 20th Annual San Francisco Authors Luncheon ( is October 11th from 10am. Yours truly will be helping out with this function which benefits the National Kidney Foundation. This year's featured authors are Tobias Wolff, Nancy Snyderman M.D., Curtis Sittenfeld, Jacques Pepin, Diane Johnson, and Andre Dubus III. It should be a great luncheon. Come say hello.


Anonymous said...

Yay for plunk and play. I think, these days, I'm calling it the sit-in-rocking-chair-with-tea method. Yeah, sitting and thinking has never been my forte, but pushing ourselves to the new places is what it's all about, right?

And thanks for mentioning the book. I've been doing my own happy dances this week. :)

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Definitely. Pushing ourselves to the new places. I like that.
Keep me informed of how things are going and when we can look for your book at the store.:) How exciting!

Lynn said...

Plunk & play -- it sounds like a great method for being creative. Probably the hardest part of that is the "plunk" -- the old butt in chair part.

Anonymous said...

Im very familiar with this method of piano playing - my son does it too!
Just checkin' in Jana!

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Great to hear from you, Tricia. Does that method work well at your house?

Martha Alderson said...

Hey, whatever keeps you at it!!

I believe in any and all the tricks that are out there, so long as it works like your method did for you = creative productivity.

congratulations, Jana!!

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You