By Kelly J. Carey
I took a bold step this year and decided not to attend the NE-SCBWI conference. I love this conference, and making the choice to miss out on inspiring lectures, helpful lessons, and the fun of communing with my fellow writer’s was not easy. But here is where I was mentally.
I was not lacking in inspiration. I had writing projects in various stages from tidy third and fourth drafts, to word files with a few phrases of an idea, to a synopsis lacking middle grade novel that were all waiting my time and attention.
I was not lacking in motivation. For months I had been drifting off to sleep thinking about those projects and waking up wondering if today would finally be the day I would find time to dig into them. Driving in the car, I’m thinking of one of those word files. Waiting for my son’s lacrosse practice to let out, I’m wondering about the third draft of a picture book. I have not lathered my hair in the shower in weeks without ruminating on a plot path of a new story.
My desk is piled with notebooks from prior conferences stuffed with craft improving handouts, epiphany inducing notes highlighted with stars, writing prompts that actually make my fingers itch, and sticky-note worthy quotes from authors and editors.
I had inspiration, motivation, and tips and tricks galore. What I lacked was activation.
I had fallen into the trap of talking and learning about my craft without actually practicing it. At a certain point, you need to take a break from learning and apply what you have learned. You need to write. So that is what I did this spring. I poured over those great notes and applied suggestions on voice, editing, and character to three picture book manuscripts. I employed those fantastic writing prompts to flush out characters and plot in two developing picture book ideas. I still need to write the synopsis for my middle grade novel, but now those motivational quotes feel more like congratulatory toasts.
Don’t be afraid to take a pause from learning.
I recommend that you shut your door, quiet your brain, and let yourself write. Relax and know that you have skills, that you have worked on your craft, that your mind is open and ready to be creative. Use all your time, energy, and focus to create.
The conferences, the lessons, the writing community will be there – but take a moment to just be you and your writing. A productive pause, to apply all the knowledge that you have collected, can be the most rewarding conference you have ever attended.
You, your knowledge, and your desire to write – a private conference for three.
Have a great conference.
~By Amanda Smith
When I spend a day in a classroom as a substitute teacher, I always feel as if I’m the one learning something new. A couple of weeks ago, when I was elementary art teacher for the day, I was reminded of some very important writing truths.
The art teacher had left instructions for the Kindergarten class to add a few finishing touches to their art projects. When they were done, I dismissed them to “free draw.” All of them huddled around the big, round open studio table, grabbing scissors, glue, string, construction paper and markers. All except one boy. He clenched the Sharpie he had used for his art project tightly in his fist and asked if he could write a story instead.
“Go for it.” I said.
“The Troll Sbardee,” he wrote.
“The Troll Story,” I read.
“Oh, I got that right? I wasn’t sure,” he said.
“Well, actually, that’s not quite how you spell it, but when we write for fun, that doesn’t matter so much,” I said.
He beamed. Ah, a kindred spirit.
He went to work writing his sbardee, and I roamed the room, admiring art work, untangling balls of yarn, and reminding kids not to run with scissors. Towards the end of the period my little writer came up to me, proudly waving a paper. Happy clusters of black Sharpie letters danced on both sides of the page.
“I finished!” he said. “I finished my story.”
“That’s wonderful. Will you read it to me?”
He held the paper in both his little hands and in a ceremonial voice, read his story of the princess troll. It was funny. It was action packed. And someone got eaten. It was perfect.
“That is a great story,” I said. “You have some interesting characters. I would love to see what they look like. Do you think you can draw a picture of them?”
He scrutinized me, with a most serious little face. And then he said, “This is a word story. This is not a story for pictures. I don’t have time for that.”
Lessons learned, dear fellow writers:
1. Write for fun! Get the story on the page in happy word clusters. You’ll have plenty of time during the revision stage to worry about spelling, sentence structure, arc, pacing, and all those other academic things. But first, just enjoy the act of creating.
2. Know what you’re writing. You might not know what you are creating when you start, but sometime during the process, ask the important questions.
3. Stick to your guns. Critique partners are gifts from heaven. Great feedback can place you squarely on the right track. But ultimately, you know what you want to accomplish, and where you want your story to go. Suggestions are just that. Make sure to stay true to your vision.
4. Manage your time wisely.
But mostly. Have fun writing those sbardees!
By Annie Cronin Romano
Two weekends ago, I went on a writing retreat with three of the four members of my writing group. It had been 20 months since our last one, and planning this one had been a challenge. From nailing down a weekend when all four of us could go (obviously we didn’t succeed there) to finding an affordable, comfortable place to work distraction-free, there were several obstacles to overcome. But it was important to us, as a group, to do this. Why do this? You ask. Good question.
1. There are no “home life” distractions. No one feels compelled to do the laundry, or clean the bathrooms, or rake the yard. Your kids can’t suddenly ask for a ride to the movies. It’s just you and your writing.
2. There are no (or far fewer) time constraints. You don’t have to stop writing in fifteen minutes to prepare dinner for the family or do the grocery shopping. This unrestricted time can free up your creativity and get the ideas flowing.
3. You’re not alone. There’s a group mentality to help maintain focus. You’re all there together for one purpose. I’m a fairly disciplined person, but even I admit that I would be tempted to lounge around, sleep late, read a book, or surf the web if it was just me on a writing weekend. Sure, I’d write. Just maybe not as intensely as I do with others around me who are focused on their work. Having fellow writers with you creates an accountability you might not have if you’re alone.
4. Even the breaks are productive. When we get up to make tea, grab a snack, or just stretch for a few minutes, we often use that time to bounce ideas off each other. We ask each other questions about plot, word choice, and characterization. When writing alone, that’s not possible. But when you’re with fellow writers, you can tap into each other’s writing strengths and knowledge.
All the members of my writing group write fairly consistently at home. But we recognize that doing this intense write-in retreat really helps us get a significant amount of writing accomplished. A group writing retreat can rejuvenate your writing, whether you use it to brainstorm story ideas, plot a novel, revise a story, or free write to move your creativity into high gear. So round up some writing colleagues and organize a retreat of your own. And let 24 Carrot Writing know how it goes!
by Francine Puckly
I am pleased to host an interview with author and writing colleague, Nancy Tupper Ling. Nancy’s books for adults include the poetry collections, Coming Unfrozen and Character, and, for those of you at a loss for the right words on special occasions, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion. Her picture books include Double Happiness, The Story I’ll Tell, and My Sister, Alicia May. Nancy is the founder of Fine Line Poets (www.finelinepoets.com) and winner of the prestigious Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award. Nancy and I had the chance to catch up this past winter, and in honor of Mother’s Day I wanted to talk a little bit more about her most recent picture book, The Story I’ll Tell.
Thank you, Nancy, for joining me for this interview!
The Story I’ll Tell is a tale of a mother and how she will share her child’s arrival with her family. You said in a recent conversation that this book is much more than a story about adoption. What is the heart of The Story I’ll Tell? What readers, beyond adoptive families, will enjoy this story?
The idea for this story came to me in a daydream as I was driving along the highway. I had an image of a child arriving on a family’s doorstep in a basket, and I began to wonder what kinds of stories a parent would tell that child about how he came into their lives. Gradually it grew into an adoption story, but I hope it reaches all families. When I sign a book for a child, I often write “for all the stories you’ll tell.” Everyone has a family story or two, and sharing these stories draws us closer.
Did you interact with the illustrator for this book, and, if so, what was your working relationship?
Typically publishers like to keep the author and illustrator apart during the creation of the book. This way the author doesn’t try to influence the illustrator’s work. That said, I love connecting with my illustrators along the way. Shortly before our book was about to launch, Jessica Lanan and I found each other on social media. Now I bring some of her storyboard sketches with me when I visit schools to show a bit of her process as well as my own.
Tell us a little bit about the process of working with your editor. How long did The Story I’ll Tell take, from start to finish, once it was acquired by Lee & Low Books?
I like to think of The Story I’ll Tell as one of those “gift” stories. Surprisingly, it didn’t require much revision, and I believe Lee & Low was the first publisher to see it. With my book Double Happiness, I revised and submitted many, many times. The whole thing took about ten years! So my experience with The Story I’ll Tell was very different. My agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, told me she’d found a new editor at Lee & Low in July 2013. Shortly after that, I was in the middle of a California conference called Build a Better Book when I got the good news. It had been accepted. I worked with my editor, Jessica Echeverria, but the edits were minimal. It was a little over two years after signing with Lee & Low that it was published (November 2015)—right in time for National Adoption Day.
What lessons have you learned as a writer throughout your publishing career?
Two of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way are: 1. Listen. This may seem easy but few people master this. They have their story. They want to sell their story. They don’t need the advice of any peers or editors along the way. And thus, they miss out on the chance to improve. And 2. Always have 5 or 6 stories in your back pocket, written out and ready to go. This is not a one book wonder industry. My agent is constantly sending several of my stories out simultaneously. And I’m never sure which ones are going to be picked up and which will fill a void in the publishing world. I can’t predict. So it’s best to bring several to the table.
How important has the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators been to your writing career?
Initially, winning the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize helped to launch my foray into the world of children’s writing. Shortly after that amazing win, I discovered SCBWI and it’s been a partnership every since. From my local critique group to the big conference, SCBWI has had my back. My latest venture with SCBWI was when they supported a visit I made to the Joseph P Tynan School in Boston. While the school didn’t have funding to invite a local author for a visit, SCBWI made this possible.
What has been your most difficult promotional or marketing challenge?
I have learned that even starred book reviews and various awards don’t guarantee massive readership. My books tend to be quiet. Sometimes they are niche books, fitting into certain pockets of the world and library shelves. It’s always a struggle to get the word out about my books. Kirsten Cappy with Curious City helped me to create activity kits for my books, and that was helpful in reaching teachers and librarians. Even with the best publishers, much of this work is on our own.
Which picture book writers have inspired you and your creative work?
When I was at a writer’s conference, an agent once compared my work to Charlotte Zolotow’s. I think that was one of the best days of my life. In my opinion, her books are classic, amazing and enduring. I also love those children’s authors who are poets too, like Nikki Grimes, Linda Sue Park, Janet S. Wong, along with my writer friends Nancy Poydar, Pat Zietlow Miller, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jean Reidy and so many more.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Write everything. Don’t restrict your writing to one genre. You never know. A poem can win a contest that may lead an editor to check out your children’s manuscript. It happened to me. It’s possible.
Can you tell us about your newest book, The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful, to be released in 2018?
Thanks for asking. Told like a classic Chinese folktale, this book has a dragon, Frightful, who makes the villagers’ lives miserable. It’s also the story of Mei and Wei, twin sisters who complete one another like yin and yang. They were inspired by my own daughters, who are opposite in many ways. While Wei is determined to rock Frightful’s world, Mei spends her time researching all about the lives of dragons. It’s only by combining their skills that these two sisters figure out how to change Frightful into a Delightful dragon.
What’s up next?
My mentor and coauthor, June Cotner, and I have completed another anthology called Family Blessings. Hopefully that will launch into the world soon. I’ve also finished my first middle grade manuscript about an orphan in Russia who must choose between finding her lost sister, Anya, or being adopted and leaving the country she loves.
For more information about Nancy and her books, visit www.nancytupperling.com.
Tidbits about Nancy:
Currently reading: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick and The True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. Wow, both Revolutionary War books and the authors have the same last name. Interesting!
Favorite Motivational Phrase: In the dedication for all my books I include the Latin phrase Soli Deo gloria. It reminds me to use the gifts I’ve been given for God’s glory.
Favorite books for kids(short list!):
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
Any Cynthia Rylant books, but especially the Mr. Putter series
Favorite Books for adults (at this time):
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by James Ford
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Favorite film: The Scarlet and the Black (with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer)
Remedy for writer’s block: Seize pockets of time, wherever and whenever you find them!
Relaxation trick: Hula hooping
Coffee or tea? Tea, iced
Vanilla or Chocolate? Chocolate
By Kelly Carey
I love to celebrate the successes of my fellow writers and here is why.
I could stand in an empty field in a thunderstorm and wait for lightening to strike. But that sounds lonely and scary. Instead, I’d rather connect with a vibrant group of writers and let the collective friction of our creative energy fire off a spark.
When that happens, I want to be connected – to the writer, to their creative process, and hopefully to their manuscript. After all, I don’t want that spark to have to jump very far.
Think of a circle of writers holding hands, or a football team huddled with their arms slung over each other’s backs – think how easily that electric spark will flow from one writer to the next when we are that connected.
So how do we connect?
We connect at conferences when we chat about craft. We build deeper connections when we form a critique group or take a workshop together. These moments offer opportunities not only to nurture our own writing journey, but to nurture the process of another writer. And to really and truly connect, you have to really and truly nurture. That means that when you hear a writer doubting their work after a harsh critique, you offer encouragement. When you read about a new agent looking for a project that describes a manuscript a writing partner shared, you shoot them an email. When you have taken a workshop that was helpful, you spread the word. When your critique partner asks you to read a manuscript, you offer your best and most complete feedback.
Your job is to propel every manuscript you touch forward on the road to publication. Yes, I said every manuscript. If you read it – you own it. Give your best feedback, your best advice, and then encourage the revisions and the submissions. Keep that writer on the path. If you bump into them and they have stalled in the process, fire them up again. Challenge them to set writing goals, and help them stick to them. Tell them to join the 24 Carrot Writing Facebook group (shameless self-promotion).
When you have done this, then you get to celebrate the success of fellow writers. If you have encouraged them in a moment of doubt, given them a pep talk after a harsh rejection, offered constructive feedback on a manuscript, then you have been a part of their success and you will look forward to the day that they are a part of yours.
So, when we hear that a writing friend sold a manuscript – we jump for collective joy!
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