The POWER of LISTS: Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

IMG_0336I am a list maker and have been all my life. As a child I wrote lists of what I wanted for Christmas and birthdays. I also kept lists of the books I read. I was a proud member member of the “Newbery Award Club” – group of kids dedicated to reading every Newbery to date.

My mother was a list maker too. And so was her mother. I know this because my mother insisted that I make packing lists before traveling and showed me how to do it. And my grandmother kept lists on index cards documenting every single dinner party she ever hosted, who came, what time they arrived, and what she served. I have those index cards and I’ve actually been contemplating resurrecting one of her dinner menus just for fun.

But I digress. Back to lists. Now that I’m in my mid-forties, and somewhat forgetful at times, I keep daily lists to help me remember the things I need to do. I have a list of all the places I have lived. For awhile, I kept a list of every new word I learned.  And I still keep lists of the books I have read and the books I want to read. This post actually is becoming a list of all the kinds of lists I like to make.

The point is – I couldn’t survive without lists. Neither could my writing. Flip through any journal of mine and you will see lists. Lists of potential story ideas. Lists of potential character names. Lists of favorite memories. Lists of craft ideas and poem ideas. You name it, I’ve listed it. Indeed, lists have become one of  my go-to strategies for combatting writer’s block. But even after I have an idea and the creative juices are flowing, lists play a crucial role in developing that idea. As I wrote GOODNIGHT, ARK,  for instance, I paused many times to make lists. I wrote lists of fun rhyming pairs and vivid animal sounds. I made lists of cozy bedtime words and fiercesome storm words. And, as I point out to students at school visits, those lists helped immensely! Indeed, many of the words and ideas generated in those lists appear in the final version.

Are you a list maker too? If not, why not give list-making a try this week as a way to get those creative juices flowing! Have fun!

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PAW PRINTS in the SNOW: Stomping out Writer’s Block

IMG_0246After a night of snow, I was eager to get out with Sophie, our dog, before anyone had shoveled. And since it was 7am on a Sunday morning, we were in luck.  At first I just savored the unblemished freshness of it all, but as we tromped down the unshoveled sidewalks I noticed, with growing joy, the companionable paw and boot prints that followed us.

As writers we, too, can appreciate the pristine beauty of untouched snow. And hopefully, at some point, we’ve all enjoyed the magic of leaving footprints on snow. Why then, is it so hard to feel the same way about the beautiful potential of a blank page? Why, instead, are we so often beset by that dreaded condition known as writer’s block? Instead of appreciating this moment of embarking on a fresh new creative journey, we fret. What will we write about, we ask ourselves. How will we start? Will we ever fill the page? Will it be good enough to share with anyone? What if it stinks?

As those snow tracks remind me, the answer is:  Stop worrying about all that nonsense!  Just jump in!  Leap, prance, trod, make circles in the snow. Don’t worry about where the prints are going or if they are perfect.  Just enjoy putting your writerly marks on that pristine page!

For me, this leaping and prancing sometimes takes the form of lists. Other times, it takes the form of free writing – where I just trot ahead, like Sophie, only with a pen, writing down everything as it comes, not pausing, or erasing, or worrying about where I am going.  Evaluating which ideas I will choose to pursue will come later. For now, like our boot and paw prints, my goal is just to play with words and ideas so that the blank, snow-covered surface of my page is filled with the joyful leaps and prances of words and ideas unencumbered by worry and self-editing.

Do you have a blank page that you need to tackle?  Well, first savor that pristine white surface and then jump in! Happy paw-printing, er writing, all!

 

 

GUEST BLOG: When Writing Feels Like a Chore with Rebecca Colby

IMG_2384Today I am delighted to have fellow children’s writer Rebecca Colby as my guest blogger.  Like me, Rebecca finds housekeeping to be a real chore, but also an inspiration.  So grab your feather duster and favorite pen and enjoy Rebecca’s thoughts on writing and cleaning. Take it away, Rebecca!

For me, writing is a chore. Like cleaning the house, I don’t enjoy it. It’s hard work, and I can think up plenty of excuses not to do it.

“I don’t know where to begin.”

“I’ll only have to do it again tomorrow.”

And my all-time favourite, “I don’t have enough time to get started now.”

The problem is, I do love a clean house. Or in the case of writing, I love the satisfaction that comes with having written.

The solution came to me this year when I knew I had to tackle my house. The mess had been staring me in the face for months and I couldn’t postpone cleaning any longer. (Yes, you read that right. Months! But breaking my wrist seemed like a good excuse at the time.)

Little-by-little the mess had grown into a chore of immense proportions. I was overwhelmed. However, I had come to the end of the line with my excuses and I had to get started.

I realized it wouldn’t matter if it took months to clean up—as long as progress was made. I made the decision to spend thirty minutes a day cleaning the house. It didn’t sound like a lot but it was all I could spare. The trick was to do it every day!

I broke it down into smaller tasks. One day I would put away DVDs, another day I would file paperwork, another day I would mend clothes. Little-by-little, the mess shrunk. The living room floor reappeared. I moved on to the bedroom, the kitchen and eventually the attic.

That’s when it struck me. Why not do the same with my writing? The act of cleaning my house brought it home to me (literally), how I could tackle the hard work of writing, and how even the smallest amount of progress was just that–progress.

Instead of forcing myself to sit down for five hours to write on a weekend, I would write for thirty minutes every day. Anne Lamott had the right idea in “Bird by Bird.” Break your work down into small, manageable chunks. It all adds up over time.

Having said that, do I still find writing a chore?

Of course, I do! The difference is I don’t let myself spend too much time in any given day doing chores. I spread the workload out.

I know I’ll never stay on top of the chores–at least until I can afford a cleaner. But if like me, you find writing hard work, remember to break it down into smaller tasks. Not only will the writing become less daunting, it will also become less of a chore.

AUTHOR BIO:

ImageRebecca is an American expat living in England who primarily writes picture books and poetry. She won the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant with her fractured fairy tale MONSTERELLA, and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE, will be published by Floris Books in 2014. A further picture book, IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015.

OLD FAVORITE: Cupcake and Sugar Pea

Since this months marks the one year anniversary of my blog, I thought I’d continue the celebration (and give myself a little extra family time this week) by re-posting one my favorite entries from last year.  Enjoy!

After school, instead of walking home, my seven-year-old has taken to riding — horseback riding, that is. She alternates between two imaginary horses — Cupcake and Sugar Pea. Her horses trot and canter. They gallop and run like the wind.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Cupcake runs like the wind. Sugar Pea is a little slower. She prefers to stop and smell the clover. Cupcake, by contrast, loves jumping over imaginary fences, the wind whipping at her mane. Their styles are so different, I never have to ask my daughter which horse she’s chosen. I just say, “Wow, Cupcake’s fast!” or “What does Sugar Pea think of the lilacs?”

I’m a lot like my daughter. I write best when I have at least two projects going at once. For example, right now I’m working on two very different picture books, several poems and a handful of blog posts. And, just as my daughter alternates ponies, based on mood, I alternate projects, based on interest, deadlines, or variety. Not only does this keep my writing fresh, it allows the pieces I’m not working on to rest, so that I can return to them with new eyes.

Keeping several horses in the stable, keeps me energized and happy as a writer. It also reduces writer’s block because I always have something in process. If one piece isn’t working, I simply take out another horse for the day. What about you? Are you a one-horse writer or do you prefer to keep several horses in your stable?

GUEST BLOG: The Ebb and Flow of Creativity with G.R. LeBlanc

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Today it is my pleasure to have G.R. LeBlanc as my guest. Gisele and I met several years ago through Verla Kay’s Blueboards and subsequently became critique partners through an on-line critique group which she organized and moderated. Over the years she has donned many creative hats including that of children’s fiction writer, poet, novelist, and even editor. But what happens when you lose your creative passion? Get ready to be encouraged by Gisele’s wonderful insights into the cycle of creativity. Take it away, Gisele!

I’ve never been a very prolific writer and struggle with longer works–and I’ve come to accept that I probably always will. It is one of the reasons that I love writing haiku and short poetry so much. They allow me to easily finish a project and experience a sense of accomplishment.

When it comes to longer projects, I tend to get lost in the brainstorming part of it. The story and the characters draw me in but somewhere along the way the passion ebbs. And, for the longest time, I thought it meant there was something wrong with me.

Was I just not cut out to be a writer?

So I’ve cycled through many writing forms such as novels, different poetry forms, short stories, and picture books, hoping that I would find something that would take hold of me and not let go. But no matter what I try, somewhere down the line, I always end up losing focus and passion.

Of course, that could be a lack of discipline on my part, or self-doubt (something I struggle with); yet, I believe a huge part of it is simply the way my brain and creativity works.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that when my focus wanes it is my spirit letting me know that it and my creativity–I believe both are intrinsically intertwined–need a change of pace and scenery. Different senses need to be engaged so that the well can be replenished.

For me, there are many different things I turn to during these times such as knitting, birdwatching, reading oracle cards, spending time with family and friends, watching documentaries, reading books and magazines, doing yoga, and even just taking a stroll in nature.

Writing haiku has also become a wonderful way of centering myself because it forces me to slow down and notice what’s going on around me. It takes me out of my head and helps me connect to my spirit.

So now, when the tides ebb, instead of fighting it, I welcome it and happily let myself drift along, knowing that I will always be brought back to the shore, and knowing that there is an endless number of  treasures and ideas to be discovered along the way!

What about you? Does your creativity ebb and flow? And if it does, what activities help you recharge and reconnect? I’d love to hear all about it!

Poet G.R. LeBlancG.R. LeBlanc is a writer/haiku poet that lives in New Brunswick, Canada. She enjoys simple pleasures like spending quiet evenings at home with her family, reading, knitting, and bird watching.

Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for children has appeared in publications such as Wee Ones, Stories For Children, Beyond Centauri, and My Little Friend, and her haiku has been published in haiku journals around the world.

You can visit her blog Ebb and Flow @ http://grleblanc.blogspot.ca/

Five Ways to BLAST through Writer’s Block

Like all writers, I sometimes struggle with writer’s block.  Here are five strategies I’ve found to get ideas flowing.  I’d love to hear what other strategies have worked for you.

Brainstorm.  To put me in a creative mood, I’ll pick a random word or memory and then list, without stopping, every word, phrase, feeling etc. that I associate with that word or memory.  Sometimes this is all I need to get my writing session going.

Leave that last thought dangling. To help me re-enter an ongoing project, I stop writing mid-thought. The next day,  there’s no reason to have writer’s block because my first task is to finish that thought I left dangling.

Attack the laundry.  If fresh ideas aren’t flowing, I don’t force the process. Instead I’ll do menial tasks like folding laundry or washing dishes. I keep my notebook handy though, because, for me, the best ideas usually come when I’m busy doing something else.

Swap those tools.  To outwit that nasty blank page or screen, I switch writing modes. Instead of laptop, I use paper and pencil.  Sometimes I go crazy and use chalk and board, or tape record my thoughts.

Set the timer.  When I’m stuck in a story or poem, I use the five-minute rule. Every hour, or half hour, I set the timer for five and free-write through that difficult part. No crossing out or deleting of words is allowed and when the timer beeps, I stop until it’s time for my next five-minute burst. No re-reading allowed. I just move forward, putting down every idea that comes in my head. At the end of the day, I have a page full of thoughts to work with.

Cupcake and Sugar Pea

After school, instead of walking home, my seven-year-old has taken to riding — horseback riding, that is. She alternates between two imaginary horses — Cupcake and Sugar Pea. Her horses trot and canter. They gallop and run like the wind.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Cupcake runs like the wind. Sugar Pea is a little slower. She prefers to stop and smell the clover. Cupcake, by contrast, loves jumping over imaginary fences, the wind whipping at her mane. Their styles are so different, I never have to ask my daughter which horse she’s chosen. I just say, “Wow, Cupcake’s fast!” or “What does Sugar Pea think of the lilacs?”

I’m a lot like my daughter. I write best when I have at least two projects going at once. For example, right now I’m working on two very different picture books, several poems and a handful of blog posts. And, just as my daughter alternates ponies, based on mood, I alternate projects, based on interest, deadlines, or variety. Not only does this keep my writing fresh, it allows the pieces I’m not working on to rest, so that I can return to them with new eyes.

Keeping several horses in the stable, keeps me energized and happy as a writer. It also reduces writer’s block because I always have something in process. If one piece isn’t working, I simply take out another horse for the day. What about you? Are you a one-horse writer or do you prefer to keep several horses in your stable?