SPILT MILK: Five Tips for Finding Time to Write

Don’t you love this tiny figurine set of kittens lapping up spilt milk that I was given as girl? I keep it in a printer’s tray that hangs in my bathroom with many other little treasures. (That’s a topic for another post.)  The messy little scene reminds me that over the course of my life, spilt milk, spilt detergent, and even spilt glitter have made me cry. Perhaps you can relate.  However, there’s one thing I never cry about.  Spilling words! Specifically words on paper.  Indeed, my joy each day, is in finding time to spill words for that time blesses my soul and, by extension, I hope it blesses those who subsequently read those words.  

The daily challenge, however, is in finding the time, for unlike milk or glitter, which, at least at our house, spill far too easily and frequently,  spilling words freely and creatively is quite another matter.  

With that in mind, here are five tips for finding time to let those words flow freely:

Tip #1: Set special time aside each day to write.  For me, this means beginning the day with 30 minutes of writing before the sun rises.  It’s amazing how freely the words flow before the cares of the day set in.

Tip #2: Turn off distractions, like the internet, for a pre-determined period of time and, instead of surfing the web or scrolling through your various feeds, write.

Tip #3: Exercise your mind and body by writing using dictation mode while you walk or use the treadmill. I love this strategy especially when I’m experiencing writer’s block.

Tip #4: Find a writing buddy or group to meet with weekly, virtually or in person, for an hour or more of writing. Check in with each other both before and after the writing session with writing intentions and accomplishments.  Note:  This is also a good way to stay connected during a pandemic.

Tip #5: Write for five minutes on the top of the hour – all day long. For those other 55 minutes, your mind will be whirring with ideas, as you go about your day, then you can let them pour out in hourly spurts.  Set the timer and don’t hesitate – write! This worked especially well when my kids were little.

This is just is getting the spilling started. What tips would you add?  Please share in the comments. 

And for more thoughts on finding time to write and maximizing the time we do have, here are some other posts you might enjoy:

Ten Tips for Finding Writing Time When You Think You’re Too Busy to Write!

GUEST POST: Take a Spirit Vacation with Children’s Writer Sara Matson

JOURNALING AND OTHER STRATEGIES: Thoughts on Unleashing Our Creativity

The LOVE IS KIND Puppet Craft Challenge!

THANK YOU for joining me for the LOVE IS KIND Puppet Challenge! I just finished live streaming on Facebook and thought I would take a minute to share the challenge with you here. Please find the video of the Facebook Live stream here, or simply scroll down for the instructions below. (The video is just for extra fun.) I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Inspired by Little Owl, who extended love and kindness everywhere he went – and in very creative ways – the goal of this challenge is for children to extend love and kindness by creating a fabulous one-of-a-kind Little Owl puppet. They will then use that puppet to make someone else feel special and loved.  Here’s what you and your child need to do:

  1. Read LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) and think about all the ways Little Owl was kind and loving.
  1. Using materials found at home have your child design their own, original Little Owl puppet. Possible construction materials include: brown bags, construction paper, felt, newspaper, fabric, Legos, an old sock or mitten, a yogurt tub or milk container, feathers, sequins etc. Be creative and have fun!
  1. Once the puppet is finished, spread joy by using the puppet as a side kick (like I do in my story times) to share LOVE IS KIND (or another story of your choice) with a special person in your child’s life – either in person or virtually! 
  1. FOR EXTRA FUN: Take a picture of your child’s puppet or you and your child reading with the puppet and send it to me. With your permission, and I will double check to make sure I have it, I will share the pictures on Facebook and my blog so we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!

WANT MORE IDEAS: Download the free LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit found here: https://www.zonderkidz.com/resources/freebies/.

INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY? LOVE IS KIND is available wherever books are sold, but if you live locally, and want to show support for an indie bookstore — Anne, at The Town Bookstore if Westfield, NJ is offering 10% off any of my books (for a limited time only). Simply mention that you watched my Facebook Live Story Event.  If you’d like the books signed, mention that to Anne and we’ll make it happen!  The phone number for The Town Book Store is (908) 233-3535. You can also email Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com

JOURNALING and OTHER STRATEGIES: Thoughts on Unleashing our Creativity

If you have followed my blog anytime at all, you have probably noticed that I love writing analogy posts where I draw comparisons between writing and life.  These are, in fact, my favorite kinds of posts.  

A couple of years ago I was even asked in an online interview by the delightful Margaret Langan over at Read.Learn.Repeat about these types of posts. The specific question was: In what way are these writing exercises useful in your pursuit of writing picture books?  

My answer was as follows: 

For me, a big part of picture book writing is making creative connections—taking a snippet of inspiration and then playing with it, combining one idea with a seemingly totally disconnected different idea, pairing characters with unusual settings, switching things around etc. 

But to do that, I need to warm up and I do that by beginning each day with my journal. I use that journal to record free-flowing thoughts, observations, joys and struggles and… analogies.

This time spent journaling is crucial for getting my creative juices going and those creative analogies just seem to flow out of me—much the way my rhymes do.  And once written, it seems a shame not to share them, especially since over the years I’ve gotten such positive feedback from writers and friends who find them encouraging and inspirational.

(For the full interview plus links to all her wonderful interviews with authors and illustrators, press here.)

I still stand by this answer and I still begin each day by journaling and those journal entries still serve to unleash creative sparks that invariably lead to analogies as well as new poems and stories. 

However, I would now also add that this creative unleashing – at least for me – can be released in other ways too – such as immersing myself in any sort of special project, such as knitting, sewing, drawing or cooking.  If intentional, even something as seemingly uncreative as going on a walk or cleaning the house or weeding can also be creative because I have found that the calm, repetitive nature of those three things in particular is conducive to contemplating ideas and playing with words – both important parts of the creative process.

And why am I making a point to share this with you this week? Easy!  I want to encourage you (and me!) to step into the days ahead eager and open to unleashing our storytelling creativity in intentional ways that can range from free writing in a journal –– to pondering plot while plodding along the sidewalk –– to whatever other specific activity you find yourself immersed in this week.  

Happy unleashing, all!

WRITING GLASSES: Four Tips to Transform Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Stories and Poems

One of the best things about being a writer is that I get to spend my days seeing the world through writing glasses.  Oh, they may look like ordinary glasses, but they most certainly are not.  It’s through these glasses that over the years I’ve transformed seemingly ordinary moments/observations into engaging poems, stories and picture books. 

So now, in celebration of stories and poems that sparkle, here are four tips for using your writer’s glasses to turn your observations into stunning stories.

TIP #1: Wear your glasses each and every day.  Gathering ideas takes intentionality and discipline.  It means stepping into the day with a spirit of wonder and being observant and open to the little moments of inspiration that come your way. This, for me, is one of the fundamental joys of being a writer. 

TIP #2: Write down sparks and observations as soon as possible.  I’ve learned over the years, that if I don’t write down an idea right away, that it sometimes evaporates. That’s why I always carry pen and index cards in my purse. I also use the notes feature on my phone to quickly jot down ideas.  For more thoughts on this check out my post Fairy Wash: Thoughts on Capturing Ideas.

TIP #3: Some sparks won’t come into focus for a while – and that’s okay!  I’ve learned over time, that my best sparks or ideas are the ones I let sit for a while, before using them to write a story or poem.  Sometimes it takes awhile to see how that spark might work itself into a story. But that is just part of the process. For more on taking this long-range view, check out my post Write Like a Turtle.

TIP #4: Remember that the goal isn’t replication- but transformation! As a beginning writer, I mistakenly believed that if I was writing a fictional piece inspired by something that actually happened, I had to write it exactly the way it happened. As a result my early stories were cumbersome and flat and ordinary.  As soon as I let go of that inner need to be fully grounded in reality, my stories began to “dazzle”.  No longer weighed down by the desire to replicate the situations that inspired them, I let my inner creative spirit take over. The result? I wrote stories that were fit for publication!. For more on this, check out my post The River: Thoughts on Writing as Reflection versus Replication.

Happy writing, all!

TEAPOT or PERCOLATOR: What Kind of Writer Are You?

It doesn’t matter if you prefer coffee or tea. That’s really beside the point. I’m guessing, though, that as a writer you are either a percolator, a tea pot or – like me – a bit of both.

Most of the time, I am a percolator. That is, I like to reflect on new stories and poems before writing a first draft. When “percolating” I always keep a pen and notebook handy so I can jot down ideas. I make lists, play with possible plot twists, settings, points-of view etc.  For example, with both Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger, I filled almost two notebooks with ponderings and word play before I actually sat down and wrote the stories.  Once I was ready to write, I wrote the first drafts of each in one sitting.

I guess you could say at that point, I turned into a teapot!  When I’m in teapot mode, poems and stories just flow, sometimes even overflow out of me. This outpouring often occurs at the most inconvenient times -when I’m cooking, or in the middle of the night. But when it does, I just let my mind shift into story/poem mode and I go with it. Writing in earnest becomes my priority – because once that tea is pouring out of me, it’s impossible to stop. I don’t worry about getting words down perfectly. I just write down the story that’s pouring out as fast as I can. (Occasionally, dinner gets a little overcooked, but don’t worry everyone gets fed.)

But teapot stories are not ready to drink yet. Far from it. Instead, after completing each teapot burst, I turn back into a percolator again, with intermittent bursts of teapot. I repeat this percolator/teapot process again and again until every word and moment pushes the story or poem forward in a fun meaningful way.

Finally it’s time for the finishing touches. At this point, I think rather than teapot or percolator, I become like a fine wine taster- sniffing and swishing – to make sure each sentence, phrase, and plot turn has just the right – je ne sais quoi – so that the story is magnifique – or at least as magnifique as I can make it-before I send it off to my agent to review.

So, dear writing friends, which are you – percolator or teapot?   Happy writing all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in January 2017. I was reminded of it one morning this past week because my husband was percolating coffee while I was steeping tea! I’ve updated the picture with LOVE IS KIND since I love the teapot Miss A made me to celebrate the release of the hardcover and I’m looking forward to the release of the board book in just a few weeks – August 6th!

LOVE IS KIND Book Jacket Workshop: Thank you, Cranford Public Library!

IMG_7963.JPGI spent a LOVELY (and fashionable) hour at the Cranford Public Library this morning sharing LOVE IS KIND at my Book Jacket Workshop for kids ages 5+. First, we read the story. Then it was time for a quick history of book jackets, using my own jackets (and impeccable sense of style ) to demonstrate how book jackets developed from plain (like my brown corduroy) dust covers, protecting the fancy book beneath, to colorful (i.e. plaid jacket) covers meant to catch a readers eye like the adorable covers to GOODNIGHT ARK and LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz) … to even fancier (like that sequined jacket and the glittery cover of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling Publishing) )to really make a book stand out. And then it was time for them to make their own covers and they did a FANTASTIC job! I even had the pleasure of having several kids read their flap copy to me – with adorable bios! Thank you for having me, Lauren and staff, and thanks for putting so much effort and joy into your projects, kids! Here are a few pictures that capture the feel of the morning. Let’s keep spreading BOOK LOVE!

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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Picture Book Author Melissa Stoller in Celebration of the Release of SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush

Today I’m delighted to have fellow picture book author Melissa Stoller as my guest.  Last year Melissa released her first chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island and her debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paint Brush is about to release!  Please join me in welcoming her as we celebrate the upcoming release of this charming new book with an interview and I’ve chosen to write my questions in lovely teal to match the cover. Let’s get started. 

Thanks so much for joining us today, Melissa. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

Thanks so much for hosting me on Laura Sassi Tales! You know I adore Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, and I look forward to adding Love is Kind to my picture book collection!    (Thank, you, Melissa, for your kind words.) 

My writing journey has many twists and turns! I am a lawyer and also worked as a legal research and writing instructor and law school career counselor. When my oldest daughter was born twenty-two years ago, I tried writing picture books and amassed a huge folder of rejection letters. I took a break and wrote a parent resource book titled The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting with your Kids Through Reading. I also concentrated on writing parenting articles. Around five years ago, I decided to get back to writing for children. I took many classes, participated in lots of workshops and writing challenges, and attended several conferences to concentrate on craft. Also, I joined several critique groups as well, and I have been a member of SCBWI since 1997! I’m so happy that my debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, will be in children’s hands very soon!

That’s an amazing journey, with lots of twists and turns, but I can see you were following an inner map that led you to this point. I’m glad you kept at it!

The premise of Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is – what happens to a child’s creativity if a magic paintbrush suddenly disappears – is adorable.  What inspired you to create this story?  Do you, perhaps, own a magic paint brush?

Thanks, Laura! I am so excited about my debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, illustrated by Sandie Sonke (www.SandieSonkeIllustration.com) releasing October 16th with Clear Fork Publishing. Sandie’s illustrations are incredible and it was such a joy to see how she brought her vision to this project. I sometimes wish I owned a magic paintbrush or even a magic pen! The inspiration for this story actually floated into my mind when I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where I live. I was gazing at my favorite Impressionist paintings, a Monet specifically. I remember thinking, “What would it be like to paint like Monet? I wonder what would happen if I had a magic paintbrush?” From there, I started thinking of all the possibilities about painting with a magic brush, and then I wondered about what would happen if the magic brush disappeared.

I love that you were inspired by visiting the Metropolitan! I think visits like that to museums are wonderful sparks for all sorts of creativity. 

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

I hope readers will leave thinking about how they can foster their own creativity. And I hope they realize they don’t have to be perfect, but instead they can create their own masterpieces. Also, hopefully readers will love the sweet illustrations and will relate to Scarlet. Finally, I hope they enjoy the magical touches throughout the story!

I am most certain they will!

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

I’m a big advocate of making connections through family book clubs. On my website, (www.MelissaStoller.com), I’ll include a parent-child book club discussion guide where I’ll offer discussion questions, an art project, suggested snacks, and related enrichment activities based around the themes of the book. 

What a terrific resource!

Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

In a typical writing day, I write or revise. I like to work in drafts so my stories always have many iterations. Aside from my picture books, I also spend time on my chapter book series. My debut chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, released one year ago. Book two, The Liberty Bell Train Ride, chugs down the tracks in February, 2019. Currently, I’m working on writing book three of the series, which takes place in Washington DC and features the Library of Congress. Also, I’m very excited about my second picture book, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (also published by CFP). I love Sandy’s style and I’m so excited about how she’s adding her amazing vision to this story. It’s about a little gorilla who likes racing with his pals but really loves winning. When a gopher comes to town, the race is on! I really enjoy tackling many different projects in any given day. And of course, I am always observing, trying to think of new ideas and new inspirations. Also, I enjoy spending time reviewing the work of my wonderful critique partners. I learn so much from commenting on other stories and working with my critique pals to strengthen my own words. Finally, I try to leave time every day for connecting with others in the KidLit community, whether online or in person. It’s so important to me to foster these amazing friendships. 

Thank you so much, Laura! I enjoyed answering these questions and I’m so happy to be featured on your blog today! 

It has been my pleasure!  Best wishes with the release of the book!

And readers interested in learning more, please check out Melissa’s bio as well as the many ways you can connect on the web.

melissa stoller author pictureBIO:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

CONNECT:  

www.MelissaStoller.com

http://www.facebook.com/MelissaStoller

http://www.twitter.com/melissastoller 

http://www.instagram.com/Melissa_Stoller 

http://www.pinterest.com/melissastoller

LOVE IS KIND: Illustrator Lison Chaperon Shares her Creative Process

I’m delighted and honored to have the illustrator for my newest picture book LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) here today to share the creative process behind her delightful illustrations.  It’s not often you get to see the process explained and shown with such detail. It’s fascinating!  Take it away, Lison Chaperon and… merci!  Enjoy!

Bonjour Laura! I’m so happy to have been chosen to illustrate your wonderful story. It was such a joy to illustrate! Your story and characters were a great source of inspiration. I’m pleased to share my creative process with you and the readers of your blog. 

When I received the manuscript, the first thing I did was to read it several times and determined the page breaks. The story is an adventure for Little Owl and for the readers so it was important to create surprise effects from one page to another.

1 page breaksThen, I worked on the character designs. I tried several techniques (ink, felt pens, pencils, watercolor…) before finding the right combination to render Little Owl’s feathers: watercolor and color pencils.

2 Little Owl Designs3 Granny Designs4 Characters DesignsOnce the look of the characters was determined, the amazing editorial team needed the cover. So I looked for cover ideas. The image had to be eye-catching, sweet and it had to capture the book message. Below are my proposals:

5 Cover sketchesHere is the sketch chosen by the team and the final art:

6 Cover final sketch7 Cover FinalThen I started the sketches. This is my favorite part! I love finding ideas, working on compositions, thinking about little details… I first storyboarded the whole story, trying different compositions through very rough tiny sketches. 

8 thumbnailsWhen I determined what worked best, I did more detailed sketches at full-scale with text.

9 Illu 1 sketch10 Illu 2 sketchI also did colored roughs to give me a first idea of the colors.

11 Illu 1 rough color12 Illu 2 rough colorOnce all the sketches were approved by the team, I went on to the final art. 

I reported the final drawings on watercolor paper (scale 110%). I wanted delicate and refined colors with a lot of nuances to express the atmosphere, the message of the story, and Little Owl’s feelings. So, before starting to paint the final art, I did several tests with the watercolor and the color pencils to find the right balance. And here is the outcome:13 Illu 1 final14 Illu 2 Final

Thank you, Lison, for sharing your process with us. I continually marvel at all that goes into illustrating a picture book and I feel so blessed that you were chosen to illustrate LOVE IS KIND!  The Zonderkidz team had great vision.  I’m thrilled that my words get to share page space with your wonderful illustrations.  

Happy reading, all!

WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT: 6 Extension Activities for Two to Four Year Olds

IMG_5747This week I’m delighted to share with you Susanna Leonard Hill’s ADORABLE new board book WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman and published by Little Simon.  It’s the third in her WHEN YOUR… series and just as cute as the first two.  Now, to celebrate reading in general – and this book in particular – here are six  book-themed extension activities perfect for 2 – 4 year olds. So, invite your darling little ones to find a good spot to read… and then extend the fun with one, two, or all of these activities (which rhyme, by the way, just because).

WATCH A LLAMA CLIP! CLIP!! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little ones might be wonder what it looks like when a real llama gets a hair cut.  If so, grab your tablet and watch some llamas getting hair cuts with this short but fun youtube video from Galloping Winds Ranch in Florence, Texas:

 

2. TAKE A HAIRY FIELD TRIP! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little one may decide it’s time to get your own buzz or trim.  Take along the book and read it while the stylist snip, snips.

3. CREATE A SNAZZY HAIRDO (without scissors)!  After enjoying all the snazzy llama hair-do possibilities, you and your little ones may decide you want to give each other hair-dos.  Make sure there are no scissors in sight, but do encourage gentle combing to remove the tangles.  A spray water bottle will add lots of styling options and help the hair-dos to stick.  Barrettes, ribbons, mousse and gel, optional.  Afterwards, pretend it’s picture day – just like in the story – and say “Cheese!” for the camera.

4. DO A PICTURE READ THROUGH… After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, your child may want to re-read it to you using the pictures as clues! Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to.

5. HAVE A LLAMA BOOK FEST!  After reading the story, you and your little ones may decide you want to read more llama-themed books! If so, head to the library and have a llama-themed book fest!  Your librarian can help you find some good books.

6. LLAMA CRAFT TIME IS THE BEST! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little ones may want to do a llama-themed craft. There are oh, so many, possibilities on Pinterest and elsewhere.  Here are a couple of  links to get you started.  Enjoy!

Llama Drawing Project: http://www.smallhandsbigart.com/llama-drawing-project/

Make a Llama Vase: https://abeautifulmess.com/2018/01/make-your-own-llama-vase.html

 

THE SNOWY DAY: A Stamp-Themed Extension Activity

IMG_5479

Last week, I picked up the much anticipated Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY stamps from my local post office and spent the LOVELIEST little while searching for the spot in the book where each stamp appears.

Afterwards, I thought what a great activity this would be for kids – one that engages young readers with the story, builds visual matching skills, and is just plain fun.

So… if you want to give it a go with your kiddos, here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Gather your supplies. Purchase a set of THE SNOWY DAY stamps from your nearest post office and check out a copy of Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY from your local library (or purchase a copy).
  2. Explore the stamps. Spend a few minutes with your child, examining the images in the stamp collection (there are eight, that then repeat.)  Have your child describe what Peter, the boy in each stamp, is doing. This might also be a good time to explain what a stamp is. What is it used for? What does the “Forever USA” mean?  Have they ever used one? (Maybe later on they can help you affix one of the stamps to an envelope with a note or picture enclosed, and send it to someone they love.)
  3. Go on a SNOWY DAY picture hunt. Now get cozy with the book and stamps close by and READ!!! As you read, see if your children can find the spots where each stamp image appears.  (It’s fun! Enjoy!)
  4. Make your own SNOWY DAY stamps.  After reading, extend the experience even further, by letting your children pick their own favorite snowy day moment and make their own pretend stamps (on small paper).

Happy SNOWY DAY all!