Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 22, 2009

Try That Dance Again

I’ve always liked books in which not a lot happens, and action is what I find hardest to write. That’s not all bad, but while I’m happy with the characters and details in the novel I’m revising, I need a stronger arc going through it all. An arc any reader can see.

Many many years ago, I took a dance class that the teacher touted as inspired by African, Caribbean, jazz, modern dance, and her cat’s stretches. I remember a class when Diana yanked up my leg, stretched my arms, tipped me almost over, and said, “You think you’re moving far when you aren’t.”

The words stuck not because I was to go on with dance – I was there for the fun and exercise – but because they summed me up. I love what’s subtle, which has its charms and uses, but sometimes, yeah, I think I’m moving when no one else can see a change. Some of this is just part of me, like the sound of my voice and a taste for gardens without placards. I’m not going to write something that keeps people on the edge of their seat, but I’d like to keep readers turning pages.

So I try to stretch. There’s Diana, laughing, leaping, reminding me I can bound a little further and hold the pace.



  1. This is such a wonderful post! Wow. This line right here is downright profound: “…but sometimes, yeah, I think I’m moving when no one else can see a change.”
    I don’t know why but I’m just grinning right now. I need to think about this some more.

  2. I love LOVE that line, too, Jeannine. Wonderful food for thought.
    (It jump-started my morning–thank you! I don’t have any banana bread to share, but I passed along its delicious goodness.)

  3. Thanks, Tracy: I’m happy you’re grinning, and we don’t have to know why. Grinning is good. Have a great writing day.

  4. I’m glad these words helped you get going again. Never mind about no banana bread on the table. Maybe we overindulged and that’s why my old dance teacher showed up.

  5. Sometimes it’s good to move out of our comfort zone. This post sparked an old memory for me: I must have been in fourth or fifth grade, working on a small pencil drawing in art class. The art teacher came over and said I needed to work bigger, fill the entire page, that my work looked cramped. I hadn’t been aware that I always worked small. I guess I thought I was moving when I wasn’t!

  6. That’s so interesting. I love small intricate drawings. Even cramped: yes. But you’re right, there’s a time to honor what we’re predisposed to and a time to kick back or out and see what happens.
    I think this was the same message I got, but not at age nine or ten. Obviously to have remembered it, there’s some message in it for you, whether the teacher was right or wrong or in between.
    Thanks for telling this story, Laurie!

  7. “You think you’re moving far when you aren’t.”
    I think I need to tape this to my wall. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks eliminating scenes that felt like movement to me, but that really weren’t. Or at least not enough to be worth the space I was giving them. I’m working on bigger swoops now — and will think of you as I spread my wings.

  8. Oh, no, not you, too, Amy.
    But then I shouldn’t be surprised. I really love the work of people who step small and take close looks.
    Still, I’m behind you whispering, go further, go further. I can think I’m moving things right to the edge of the table, and anywhere further they’ll be right in someone’s eye; and no one noticed the shift.
    Here’s to big fat swoops.

  9. Stillness is full of movement and movement is full of stillness. I find my mind sometimes gets in the way of letting the movement find its natural way. Inspiring post as always, Jeannine.
    Hope you had a good writing day! (And I’m glad we had your dance teacher show up instead of the banana bread today!)

  10. Happy writing to you Jeannine

  11. Thanks for leaving a comment, Jeannine. I found you through a link Melodye Shore put up, and enjoyed this post. I think of my plotting as thinly sliced layers… things do not move super fast for me, either. 🙂

  12. This is LOVELY and it totally resonates w/me. Thank you thank you for this…

  13. And you, too, Meg! Sounds like you’re on a productive roll.

  14. Melodye’s so great about connecting people up! Thank you so much for coming by. I love hearing about people writing their novels in a month, but it’s so not me. Maybe we need to have a little corner for the slow and layering.

  15. Thank YOU, Liz, for reading. I love what slowly accrues, love poetry and a poetic sensibility in prose, but there are those times when I know — or try to know — it’s time to cut loose, leap, teeter, maybe even race for a bit and see what happens.

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