In support of our group mission, which we’ve dubbed Freshman Voices (check out our shiny new page all about it here!), Freshman 15er Kim Liggett recently spent time with students at Robert Louis Stevenson School in NYC to talk about her outside-the-box approach writing process. Take it away, Kim!
I love teens. I have two of my own. Our apartment is practically a revolving door of angst, laughter, heartbreak, Xbox, trash talk, and sweat. But when Robert Louis Stevenson School in NYC asked me to come in and talk to their writing students for their Art Manifest week…I got a little nervous. What kind of expert was I? Seriously. I flunked English pretty much all the way through—ended up dropping out at sixteen to go sing backup for rock bands. Not exactly role model material.
Here’s the thing—Robert Louis Stevenson is the school I wish I’d had growing up. They specialize in teaching kids with ADHD and/or dyslexia.
These were my people.
I came prepared with writing exercises, powerpoint presentations and activities just in case it all went south, but these students weren’t messing around. They wanted to know how I did it. How I finished a story. How I overcame the grammar issues that go hand in hand with dyslexia.
I leveled with them—I told them as hard as I study I’ll probably never be a flawless technical writer—but I’ve got voice—I’ve got a great imagination. And you gotta work with what you’ve got.
Normally, I’m a little embarrassed to show people how I plot out a story—it’s weird and sloppy and a little psycho. But when I pulled out my poster boards, which look more like some kind of freaky outsider art—they got it. Their eyes lit up. It clicked. I got on the floor and showed them how it’s a tactile thing for me. I use a thousand sticky notes full of ideas, imagery, and dialogue and move them around the board until it makes sense to me. This is my version of an outline. I have all these fancy computer programs to help me organize information, but I always end up on the floor.
Another obstacle for me is I get easily distracted. First drafting is always the toughest. The blank page. It’s when everything else in the world suddenly becomes fascinating. That’s when I put the poster board away and take it one scene at a time, otherwise I’ll get overwhelmed.
I’ve found I work best in a pack. I have the most generous writing friends who meet up with me on a regular basis to write. When I look up from my computer and see them working hard, it inspires me to do the same. I set timers, I dole out Swedish fish, make deals with Gods and Devils—whatever it takes to get it done. And once it’s all down, I start the long and vigorous process of making it readable, and then making it sing, one layer at a time.
When our time was up, we hugged and exchanged emails. They told me I inspired them to write.
They certainly inspired me to be proud of who I am and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to make my dream come true.
*photo by Ken De La Cruz, a student at Robert Louis Stevenson School.
Being a theatre geek in a midwestern town of five-hundred people is an interesting way to grow up. Kim Liggett managed to escape at the tender age of sixteen to New York City to pursue a career in both music and acting while attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In between acting jobs (being girl #3 or #5 in various after-school specials, to her famous jumping scene in the internationally acclaimed Shasta commercial), she worked as a back-up vocalist for such acts as Eddie Money, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, etc…and, yes, she had big-time 80’s bangs that could take your eye out.
When she finally tired of a life on the road, and settled down to have a family, she became an accidental entrepreneur. Kim created a children’s art education program that was franchised. Kim is married to the great jazz artist Ken Peplowski, and has two grotesquely beautiful teens, and a very neurotic dog that you will find her dragging through Riverside Park everyday on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
BLOOD AND SALT (Putnam/Penguin, Fall 2015) is her first novel.