Today I read Looking for Alaska, another beautiful book by John Green. His characters are richly, unexpectedly specific. He takes his time with them and isn’t afraid to get tangential. Takumi, the Japanese boarding student who raps. Alaska, the girl who loves sex and collects books at yard sales. Miles, who had no friends and spent his life memorizing the last words of famous people. The Colonel, dirt poor and insanely smart, who has memorized, first, all the capitols of all the countries of the world, and then all of their populations. I learn: you don’t need as many details as you think to bring a character vividly to life.

I came across a blog about writing and productivity. She says productivity is directly tied to three things: one is knowledge. Before you start writing the scene, set aside a minimum of five minutes to plan the scene you are going to work on. What are you trying to accomplish? What is your character trying to accomplish? What happens? What will the conflict be? The second element is time. She said, keep track of when you write, and try to schedule your writing in the times you are most productive. She wrote more in the afternoon, away from her house, and usually for long rather than short sessions. But for each person the optimal circumstances will be different. The third element– and this was the real AHA moment for me– is enthusiasm. When you do your planning/thinking about the day’s writing, try to locate the part of the scene that you are excited to write. If you can’t find a reason to be excited by the scene, invent one, and if you can’t invent one, then cut the scene, and find another way to work the information into the story.

This morning I was thinking as I rode out to Lexington that this stage of parenting is where the rubber meets the road: being a well-intentioned, helpful person isn’t enough. You have to be a good person, because they are watching everything, all the time, and practicing what you do. If you aren’t modeling it, they can’t do it.