By Kelly Carey
A few years ago, I was at good friend’s wedding and I knew the bride was hoping for a packed dance floor. Three songs in and the parquet square was painfully empty. My husband grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, let’s get this party started.” I love to dance and I wanted my friend to have the wedding party she deserved. So we hit the dance floor.
Two twirls around and I lost my nerve. Twenty tables of ten times two eyes – you do the math – it was a lot of eyes and I could no longer hear the music. My feet became blocks of cement and every muscle in my body turned rigid. My husband was left trying to twirl a two by four stuck in a five-gallon drum of cement across the floor. I was a dance partner even Derek Hough could not successful spin around.
Our friends at table 4 laughed and waved, but no one joined us. The song mercifully ended and my dejected husband dragged his two by four wife back to her seat. We had failed. The party had clearly not started.
Why do I share this humiliating failure? And what does it have to do with writing?
The same thing can happen to your manuscript. You can have the best idea, set out onto that empty page completely ready, but a few paragraphs in you seize up, just like I did on that dance floor. Here is how it happens. You stop feeling the joy of your own creative energy and you let self-doubt and fear take over. Instead of using your magnificent imagination to conjure up characters, dialogue, and plot twists, you use all your creative energy generating negative comments by potential readers. You drown out the sound of your own writing melody and BAM – you’re a two by four: stiff, halting, and unable to let a single sentence flow across the page.
Pieces of lumber cannot write.
When you let the thought of how this agent, that editor, or that critique partner will react to every word, sentence, or paragraph, those imagined criticisms will interfere with the exuberance of your writing. Your writing needs to flow with energy and reckless abandon. Judgment is like a giant dam blocking off your writing. You need to bust through that dam. Take a few cleansing breaths and focus only on that positive creative voice in your head and then just write exactly what it tells you to write. That’s it. No judgment, no critique, no mocking friends at table 4, no cement, no two by fours; just you and the sound of your fingers tapping out brilliance across a keyboard.
I failed to fill the dance floor at my friend’s wedding because the other guests didn’t see a woman rocking out to her favorite song. Instead they saw my pain, discomfort and humiliation. Who would want to join in on that? If you want readers to share in the joy of your writing, you need to make the process joyful. Judgment and doubt are joy killers and they have no place in your early drafts. Write like you want a full dance floor. Ignore the tables of eyes, and just listen to your own creative music. Readers will come if they can feel the joy in your writing.
Hear your music.
Go! Dance! Write!
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 Francine Puckly
I am pleased to host an interview with friend and writing colleague, Janet Fox, author of student self-help book Get Organized without Losing It, three young adult novels Faithful, Forgiven, and Sirens, and most recently the middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.
In addition to Janet’s writing career, she has worked as an oceanographer and taught English at both the middle and high school levels. She serves as assistant regional advisor for the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Montana. I recently had the chance to catch up with Janet at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City in February. Here are just a few of the many questions that bubbled to the surface after visiting with her!
Thank you for joining us, Janet!
Thanks so much for having me here, Francine!
In NYC, we discussed landing a literary agent, a process that for many is a long (and often discouraging!) process. What was your process to finding the best representative for your books? What is the key piece of advice you’d offer writers on that quest?
I'm actually working with my second agent. My first agent and I parted company amicably when she no longer loved the direction my work was taking (she likes YA romance; I wanted to write MG fantasy). But I met her through a critique at an SCBWI conference. It was not my first critique, and I had been writing for several years trying to polish what became my first novel, so that's my first piece of advice: polish and revise, polish and revise, until your manuscript glows, before you submit. And my second piece of advice: take chances with critiques, especially those offered through SCBWI. Even if you don't land an agent you'll gain valuable experience in being critiqued. And my third piece of advice: don't be discouraged! If you learn and apply the craft, and you keep writing and submitting, one day you'll find a match with an agent.
Last note - the author/agent relationship is like a marriage. Your agent needs to be your biggest cheerleader and should love your work without reservation. Don't sign with someone because you're desperate. Sign with an agent who believes in you and will be your advocate.
“Pre-published” writers have the flexibility on deadlines. They may or may not be drafting a new novel while submitting revisions for the manuscript under contract. How do you organize your work, as drafting a new story and revising a completed story use very different parts of the creative process?
Great question. There's a lot of down time in publishing, and I don't want to rest on my laurels. Besides, I love to write, so I write every day regardless of where I am in the process.
For example, in early January my agent sold my next novel (a MG fantasy titled THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT) to my editor. My editor asked me to work on it based on a phone conversation. I did, and completed that draft in early March, and sent it off to her. While she wrote her edit letter I had almost a month to wait, so I began working on notes and early pages for what I hope will be my next-next novel.
As for the different parts of the process, they really aren't so different for me. Each time I sit down to write I feel like I'm learning a new craft element, and each creative moment I'm in feeds all the others that wait. Early drafts are hard for me, and I love revision, but it's still all a generative process.
When working with your editor, how long does she give you to complete revisions for each stage of the process? For example, do earlier revisions require bigger changes to the manuscript and need more time? Or are you marching to a tight timeline always?
That depends on the project and on the editor. For THE CHARMED CHILDREN, I had about 4 weeks after the first edit letter because my editor was taking a sabbatical and needed to push the process. For THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT, my editor said there's no timeline right now because she wants to see a really deep next revision and doesn't want me to feel pressured to do less than my best. (Needless to say I'll be working under my own self-imposed deadline, because I work better that way.)
But generally, yes, the first edit letter addresses the big, global changes that need to be made, so that round takes longer, and each successive round is shorter and shorter.
At this point in time in your career, do you write full-time or part-time?
Full time, lucky me! I have a very supportive husband, my son is in college, and we're pretty settled.
What does a typical workweek look like for you?
I write every day, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday. Sometimes that doesn't amount to much - maybe some notes, maybe a few hundred words; but I usually try for at least 500 new words a day, or a certain number of pages of revision a day.
Of course, I do spend a bit of time marketing - writing blog posts, posting to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, generating marketing and publicity materials. And I spend time reading craft books, attending conferences and webinars, and giving lectures or doing school visits, and all of those things take lots of time, too.
But the main thing I try to do is write. Every day. And read, every day.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I don't have a special time that is really cast in stone. I just scan my day and try to fit the writing in first, but if it takes me until 3 in the afternoon to get to being creative, that's all right. I used to be only a first-thing-in-the-morning writer but life gets in the way so I give myself flexibility.
But I won't let myself off the hook if I can help it!
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I'm an avowed pantser (seat-of-the-pants writer). I've tried often to write to an outline, from the most rigid to the most vague, but that approach kills my creativity. I just can't outline. I love to see where my subconscious will take me. My worst writing comes when I've planned, so I've learned to honor my personal and very organic process.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first draft takes from two to four months. Every draft after that takes from one to two months, and the process gets shorter with each revision, so for me to write a full novel with a draft I feel is ready to send to my agent takes in total almost a year.
But I hit the reset button when I get my first edit letter because that edit always takes me to new places which takes a bit more time.
I should add here that my agent is an editorial agent, meaning she wants to see the full draft of whatever I write before she'll submit, and she makes extensive editorial comments on my work, to which I must respond before she'll submit. And she's excellent at it, so I completely trust her. The proof of her ability is that many of her clients are not only multiply published but receive starred reviews and more. My editor told me that when Erin (Erin Murphy) sends her a manuscript, she puts it at the top of her queue, because even if it's not something she can sign, it's always a polished piece.
Which writers have inspired you and your creative work?
Oh, wow, that's always such a hard question because I love so many and it changes so quickly with what I've read most recently. But here are a few. Kathi Appelt is my primary mentor - I wouldn't be published without her friendship and example. Laurie Halse Anderson, Julie Berry, Linda Sue Park, Jandy Nelson...I love Adam Gidwitz's INQUISITOR'S TALE, and Kelly Barnhill's THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, and anything by Grace Lin, Laura Ruby, MT Anderson, Rita Williams-Garcia, E. Lockhart.
But my first and earliest inspiration was C.S. Lewis, followed by all the old fairy tales, and then by Agatha Christie.
Which social network has worked best for promoting your work and/or creating a supportive writing community? Why?
I think I have to say Facebook. I have a lot of author friends there, and this is such a supportive community. I learn something new almost every day from people on Facebook. And I have an author page (www.facebook.com/AuthorJanetFox/) although I don't update it as often as I should - perhaps once every couple of weeks. After that I'd say my blog (janetsfox.com/), which I update every week, and then Twitter (@janetsfox). I'm trying to be better about Instagram (www.instagram.com/janetsfox/) because I know that's a terrific way to interact with especially younger fans.
But I also have a way for readers to follow my blog and/or my occasional newsletter here: bitly.com/janetfox
What has been your most difficult promotional challenge?
Hmm. Well, I'm not very good at self-promoting in person. Just the other day I was traveling through a city on a trip, and saw that a well-respected indie was right around the corner from where we were having dinner. I had to steel myself to go in and ask if they had my book, to sign stock. Not only did they have it, it was on a special display (hence why I didn't see it on the regular shelf) with a terrific review tag, and they were thrilled to meet me. While I felt sheepish and embarrassed, they were more than excited. So I obviously need to get over my embarrassment.
What is the hardest thing about writing novels from start to finish?
Definitely it's not getting discouraged when you think your work stinks. It's so easy to hate what you're writing, to feel like you haven't said what you want to say, and to feel like giving up.
For me, the creative spark - before I've set pen to paper for the first time - is brilliant. The idea shines like a supernova. Translating that brilliance to mere words, well, it's never perfect. As a writer I can only approach perfection, I can never achieve it. So I have to write through my mortal failure because to do anything else would mean giving up altogether.
What’s up next?
Next is THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT, from Viking. My own one-sentence blurb: "A novel about gender identity and alternative facts in a magical Elizabethan England." We're aiming for a fall 2018 release. Stay tuned! You can follow along on any of my social sites.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
This is what I say to kids every time I'm in the classroom:
Everyone has a unique vision. Everyone has a unique story to tell. You, and you, and you have your own story, one that belongs to nobody else. Tell in your own voice, in your own time, with your own full heart, and don't be afraid to give it away, for you'll be giving the world the greatest of human experiences.
Your unique story is a bright light that has the power to change the world.
For more information about Janet and her books, visit www.janetsfox.com.
Tidbits about Janet:
Currently reading: Linda Sue Park, FOREST OF WONDERS
Favorite books (short list!): The Narnia books; THE UNDERNEATH; BONE GAP; THE PASSION OF DOLSSA; BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE; LORD OF THE RINGS; HARRY POTTER...I could go on!
Favorite quote: "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth." Pablo Picasso
Favorite film: Casablanca
Manuscripts composed/edited in: Scrivener and Word
Remedy for writer’s block: BIC! (Butt in chair. Works every time. I promise.)
by Francine Puckly
Two weeks ago I dropped my daughter off at NYU. Going from a small high school in Massachusetts to a university with a worldwide enrollment of 57,000 and a freshman class just shy of 6,000 students, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is a huge adjustment. But it’s not the size of the school that’s disconcerting. It’s the feeling that she’s not quite sure she belongs. As I wrote her a letter this morning, I realized her journey into a film career mirrors mine as a writer. And I believe it’s important advice for me to remember everyday, as well as anyone else in a creative field. It ain’t easy, people. But there are two fundamental pieces of advice I gave my daughter that I believe we all should follow.
First, in the big, bad world of anonymity, when you’re lost in the sea of humanity, when you find yourself in a business that feels large and impersonal, it’s very important we seek out mentors, friends and supporters who will validate our creativity, help us feel welcome, help us to trust our instincts, help us make good choices personally and professionally. The ironic piece of this is that we must step out of our comfort zone in order to step into our comfort zone. We have to knock on doors, attend workshops and socials where we know no one, introduce ourselves over and over until we find those three or five or fifty people who will be our professional family going forward.
When I first set off into the publishing world, it was big and scary and I didn't know where to begin. I didn't know how to meet people, how to get started, where to find a critique group, or how to write a synopsis or a cover letter. I began this journey of building a community by attending an awards presentation and schmooze. After getting lost four or five times and circling on one-way streets, I arrived quite late. A bit frazzled and nervous, I dove into the swarm of strangers and proceeded to ask Lois Lowry if she had ever been published. (She had, in case you were wondering.) Having gotten the worst, most humiliating network experience out of the way, things took a turn for the better after that first night. I persisted meeting new people and, consequently, I turned the big, bad world of publishing into a smaller, family community through workshops, socials, SCBWI conferences, author signings and local bookstore events. I've met great people, made lifelong friends, and have found out that most people are just as scared as I am and are looking for friends and community too. As I told my daughter, we’re all looking for community. That’s the human experience, right? We’re all looking for reasons to get up in the morning and go to work. And the people I assumed would be the least approachable are the ones who were most approachable, and they have turned out to be trusted friends and mentors.
The second piece of advice I gave her was to trust her instincts. It’s often the hardest thing to do. We must trust our instincts and never look back. We shouldn’t wish to be more like "X" unless we truly believe being a little more like "X" will make us better writers, better people. Just as she may think she’s supposed to be like another student in class who receives an abundance of praise for a film style that’s not comfortable to her, we writers are often guilty of the same second-guessing. The biggest mistake writers make (and I made it early on) is trying to follow the market or trying to be someone we're not. We hear what publishers are buying and what they're sinking huge marketing dollars in, and we think, "Crap. I don't write that." And then the next logical thought is, "Maybe I should write that instead." And we try to do that, and we fail. We fail because we don't follow our own voices. Not one publisher out there is publishing what I’m currently writing. Not one. And I'm pretty sure if you were to say to them, "Hey, how about a YA novel about XXX?” they'd spit their coffee out all over their desks. But I've never been prouder of something I've written (and I’m sure they just don’t know they’re looking for it yet!). I believe in this manuscript. I believe in the story. I believe in the characters. I believe in my voice. And I will ride this book to the end of my days, until I find the agent, the editor, the publisher who believes in it, too.
My last piece of advice that went along with that is don't ever apologize for being different. Don't ever think that your voice isn't good enough, isn't polished enough, isn’t incorporating fancy words. Your voice, your vision, your perspective on a story (and life) is one of the most important things to trust. Hone it. Listen to it. Never, I repeat NEVER, apologize for it! Let other people do those other things that you think are more glamorous or sophisticated or whatever. You're not that person. You're something different. You're something better.
Good advice, right? Now we have to follow it ourselves. If you haven’t found your community, the people who make your world feel smaller and more tangible, get out there and shake some hands and kiss some babies...you'll find your small comfort zone one hello at a time. And if you’re still questioning your worth, your voice, your instinct, to that I say, STOP. Believe in your voice and don’t look back.
One of my favorite quotes is by Rabbi Zusya and his concern about his first conversation with God after he died. “When I die,” the Rabbi said, “I know God's not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' But I'm afraid that God will ask 'Why weren't you more like Zusya?' And then what will I say?”
Don’t let that be you.
by Francine Puckly
I sit and write this blog, iced tea in hand, on the summer solstice. Another sacred season of idleness is ushered in with a rare Strawberry Moon to boot! My love for this season’s promise of idleness dates back to my carefree youth and the endless and languid summer days. I spent warm, breezy afternoons roaming the vast countryside and exploring my parents’ Pennsylvania farm, biking from house to house with bells dinging and streamers flying in the wind, and lying on the lawn, the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass intoxicating me as I gazed at the clouds passing by.
Unfortunately, the past several summers have lacked this lackadaisical nature for me. I long for dolce far niente, an old Italian expression that translates literally to ‘sweet doing nothing.’ This summer I’m determined to take a break from crashing hard drives, unnecessary appointments, and requests on my time that can be ignored, or at the very least, postponed.
We recently hosted my daughter’s high school graduation party. Seven hours of friends, family, laughter, tears and love. My phone had been set aside and I realized at the end of the party that I hadn’t taken one picture. It was, to be perfectly frank, refreshing. For the first time in weeks, I had lived in the moment without thought of recording, sharing or learning from it.
All of us balance stress, juggle multiple demands, and manage tight schedules, and sometimes these rigid schedules help our writing. We are driven and focused, and we are extremely efficient with our creative time. But sometimes our normal pace puts a stranglehold on imagination. And that’s where idleness comes in handy. The astonishing thing about the recent graduation party is that the details flood to me with astounding clarity: word-for-word conversations and jokes are vivid, and moments when friends hugged me or held my hand are as if captured on a video in my mind. These crystal clear experiences are what bring my writing alive. It is through living and soaking in the moments of human interaction that we writers and illustrators fill the well and rediscover our hearts. It is only then we are capable of telling the story.
So as the heat and humidity climb these next few weeks, shelve your to-do list. Be. Take time to welcome a sunrise, be cleansed by a warm rain, read a captivating book, share meaningful conversations with loved ones, or split a chilled bottle of wine while gazing at the Milky Way. Watch the clouds, lie in a hammock, and soak in the sun and details around you. We’ll be doing ourselves, and our readers, a great service!
by Kelly Carey
During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Animated Feature, Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out, made me realize that I’ve been wasting my bad moods.
I don’t write when I’m mad, angry, upset or scared. Instead, I wait to be in the perfect mood before I sit at the computer to write.
What a huge mistake!
Every mood should be my perfect writing mood. Tapping into all my emotions, by writing when I’m sad, mad, or nervous, instead of just relaxed and happy, will give my characters greater emotional depth and their stories more range and universal appeal. I should use the entire Inside Out mood board.
Thanks to Pete’s words, I will no longer wait for both a quiet house and a quiet mind to write. He made me realize that I am missing out if I don’t grab the opportunity to write when I’m annoyed, upset or hurt. As Pete advised, “there are days you’re going to feel sad…angry…scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films, draw, write – it will make a world of difference.”
I am done using the excuse of my mood as a reason not to write. Instead, I’m going to embrace my mood as a reason to write. As Pete Docter said, “we are so lucky because we get to make stuff”. Funnel all your feelings into your characters and their stories; use your mood as an impetus to capture the full range of human emotions.
As a bonus, when you have gifted your characters with your less than perfect mood, you will hit save on the computer and whistle away from your workspace feeling accomplished, and happy. In the words of my fellow blogger Amanda, "It's like exercise. Just less sweaty!".
Writing in a bad mood will not only enrich your writing, but improve your day. Now that’s happy writing.
~ by Amanda Smith
Last week as I was doing my other job, I noticed a strange phenomenon. I was a substitute teacher in a history class, where the students were working on a creative project. They had to research a historical figure; draw pictures of what this person might have been thinking; and write a first-person paragraph for each picture, describing the thoughts and emotions of this person. The students all had devices to help them with their research. I loved the idea of this project which was geared towards the development of critical thinking skills. As I walked between their desks, admiring their pictures and monitoring their internet use, I was shocked to discover what they were googling.
No, none of that.
They were looking up clip art for tomb stones and Jolly Rogers, why ships in general sink, and how to draw a stick girl! Now, that one might have started out as a joke.
Student 1: I can’t even draw a stick figure!
Student 2: Google it.
The joke is funny. What was not funny, was that he actually googled it. And drew his stick figure girl exactly like the one on the screen.
Student 3: I can’t remember what the British flag looks like. May I Google it?
Me: Use your text book. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.
Student 3 flipped aimlessly through his text book.
Me: Use the index. It’s called the Union Jack.
Student 3 turned to back of book, looking in appendixes. After watching him page through his textbook for what seemed like forever, and considering the amount of laptops I had closed for frivolous use of the internet, I allowed him to google it.
Student 3: (Face palm) I cannot believe I forgot this is what it looks like!
Student 4, cracking up at Student 3, places paper on computer screen and traces Union Jack.
By this time I was overwhelmed by the stench of perfectly good brains rotting all around me. Now, don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the use of technology or the internet. The internet is a wonderfully helpful tool. It becomes a problem when it is used as a substitute for thinking, innovation and imagination. Much has been said about the "Google effect" and how it is changing the way we apply our minds. Writer Paul Miller, after taking an entire year off from the Internet, says that we have to resist becoming blobs who "exist on the internet instead of getting into the Internet, using it as a really cool tool, and then putting it away so (we) can focus on writing or something." That day in the classroom, I was saddened by the fact that kids who had been given an opportunity to be original, had chosen to be mundane. I was flabbergasted by kids being so connected that they are completely disconnected from their own thoughts.
But most importantly, as a writer, I was concerned that they were disconnected from their own voices.
And I wondered:
Is this what our future looks like? Where is the creativity?
Innovate, don’t imitate Dan Santat whispered in my ear.
Old school, in big red letters, I wrote on the board: INNOVATE, DON’T IMITATE. After I googled Dan Santat on the teacher’s computer, I cast his lovable, friendly face on the white board with the overhead projector (Hey, it’s cool technology.) And I told these students the story Dan shared with us at the 2015 NESBWI Spring Conference.
About how he was working for Disney. And how he realized his art was being influenced by his environment until he was merely recreating existing Disney characters. How he left this “dream job” and threw himself into his art and discovered his own voice. And how he won the 2015 Caldecott Medal for THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE. Because he dared to innovate.
I hope those kids heard. But my heart leapt a little, because, as I am in the midst of revision, Dan was also speaking to me. Like those students, I am presented with the opportunity to be creative every time I sit down to write. Am I original? Am I true to my voice? Am I inventing?
In writing and revision, how can we be sure we are innovative?
Dare to discover the innovative, creative spirit that dwells within you. Dare to go on a journey to find your voice. No Google required.
~by Amanda Smith
“Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
Why our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
And why it matters”
~ Sara Groves Why it Matters
As writing weeks go, last week was less than stellar. A month ago I felt particularly brave and sent out a whole barrage of queries. And, typical to the querying process, the rejections started rolling in last week. The high point of this phenomenal writing week was that I didn’t get to spend one single day writing; creating something new; doing the actual thing that fills my cup. And so, by this weekend, I was seriously questioning my career path.
It seems like such a cheek, such a nerve, to take all this time and pour it into this frivolous thing called “writing for children.” It seems like such an audacious luxury to contemplate and feel, and then pour it in story form onto a page. And call it work.
And that’s when I stumbled on this short video by Sara Groves, my favorite singer, song writer, and human rights activist. In the video she refers to artist Makoto Fujimura discussing utility, pragmatism and art. “Utilitarian pragmatism chokes out art, love and beauty,” Fujimura states in his blog post Art, Love and Beauty: An introduction. Sara encourages artists to push against practicality and usefulness. We should make space for contemplation. We need this “extravagant, wasteful, space” in order to create beauty.
Because beauty matters.
Like the band that played while the Titanic sank.
Like Vedran Smailović, the cellist from Sarajevo, who played his cello in ruins during the siege of Sarajevo.
Like Karim Wasfi, conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, who played his cello at the devastation left by a car bomb in Bagdad. “Why do we keep on doing this? Because we appreciate beauty and we want to build, not to destroy,” said Wasfi.
Like Syrian artist Tamman Azzam who superimposed an image of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss on a war torn building in Syria.
Like Jessixa Bagley who provides a channel for recognizing absence in BOATS FOR PAPA. Like Peter Reynolds who inspires and validates creativity in DOT and ISH. Like Jo Knowles who leads readers to better understanding and empathy in SEE YOU AT HARRY’S or PEARL. Like Terry Farish who sheds light on refugees in THE GOOD BRAIDER. Like Miranda Paul who raises environmental awareness in ONE PLASTIC BAG. Like Dan Santat who stirs up imagination in BEEKLE. Like authors such as Tara Lazar and Mo Willems who create frivolous, yet significant, laugh-out-loud fun. Like Brian Floca who steals our breath in LOCOMOTIVE.
That is the beauty to which I want to add.
Those of us who identify as artist; those of us who are thinkers; those of us who sit with an emotion, or an idea until it becomes words, something concrete, something useful:
We add to the beauty.
It is an extravagant luxury.
And it matters.
by Francine Puckly
This blog is late for a number of reasons, but the most notable cause is burnout. I began 2015 convinced that I had only a few short weeks of revision remaining for my current YA manuscript. I dashed off on a three-week sprint to finish the story.
Those three weeks came and went while I slogged through the quagmire of subplot placement and character development.
“That’s okay,” I told myself. “I know I can finish in another two weeks.”
I pounced on the manuscript with almost the same enthusiasm. Almost. But my commitment to this draft was soon smothered with life—fundraising for a non-profit I support, events planning for another, a family medical emergency, band concerts, budget meetings, and snowstorms.
“It’s okay,” I still told myself. “If I cut my sleep a little bit more, I know I’ll finish in two weeks!”
And it was okay.
Until it wasn’t.
A medical trip to my parents’ home for four days forced a reevaluation of my writing process. Despite missing my self-imposed deadlines repeatedly, I had become a workaholic. I didn’t reduce other commitments. Instead, I took from myself. I gave up the good things in life that could have, and should have, sustained me. It was only after stepping away from this destructive routine that I could see I had to stop the madness.
But old habits die hard, and I posted my April goals, telling myself (and the world!) I would complete my manuscript (again)! You’d think I’d learn.
I went in tonight and changed my goals. I don’t know if I can finish the manuscript this month without hurting all that’s good in my life. A more realistic goal is taking time for four two-hour sessions each week over and above my 20 minutes a day. Not word count. Not page numbers. Not completion.
What will I do instead? I’m taking steps to regain my physical fitness, treating my son to dinner after shoe shopping, and reading books outside in the first moderate temperatures we've had in months. And I just might go see "Cinderella."
And the manuscript? Oh, I suppose I’ll finish it.
After a good night’s sleep and a long walk.
By Francine Puckly
It’s one thing to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic and quite another if we were to have done this on the famous Stella Polaris in its heyday or perhaps today on the Seven Seas Mariner. Instead of a futile exercise, you’re grabbing a new perspective on an already-amazing creative journey.
I returned last night from the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City. I spent four long, sleep-deprived days listening to inspirational lectures by authors, illustrators, agents and publishers about the fabulous things happening in children’s publishing, brainstorming ideas with colleagues for our personal projects as well as the efforts of our writing organization, and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones over mugs of tea and glasses of wine.
This morning I pondered those nuggets of hope and inspiration I acquired over the weekend while I sipped my cup of tea. Then I rearranged my writing world. I moved my writing desk from a snow-blocked window to one that provided a different view, I deleted the first two chapters of my novel to leave room for a new perspective, and I wrote down the first five things I wanted to change this week. New views. New perspectives. New energy. And with renewed focus, I began to write and tackle those goals.
What did I learn this weekend? I learned to listen to others and allow them to fill my well. I learned that it’s critical to network and meet new people with new ideas. I realized that no matter how hard it is to budget for workshops and leave my family behind, it’s essential to invest in education. And I found out it’s necessary to put my refreshed mind to work immediately before losing the positive influences.
Even though you might not have gone away for the weekend, take some time today to look at what feels too familiar or no longer provides the inspiration it once had. Rearrange a few deck chairs. Make a quick list of things you can refresh right now. It might be as small as purchasing a new journal and indexing the pages as Laura Vaccaro Seeger does to keep track of her ideas, registering for a class or workshop that you didn’t think you could justify, or merely moving a desk to a new room or window to watch the birds or falling snow. Once you’ve done that, take out your favorite pen or brush and add some splash to your project.
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
Click to set custom HTML
Click on the RSS Feed button above to receive notifications of new posts on this blog.