Inspiration, time management, Writing

LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Thoughts on SEAGULLS and WRITING

A few years ago, a friend and I took our kids for a day at the Jersey shore. It was a beautiful day with clear skies, mild surf and salty breezes. The kids spent the morning jumping waves and building sand forts. By lunch time they’d worked up hearty appetites and couldn’t wait to dig in to the delicious picnic we’d packed.

Sitting on boogie boards and towels, they unwrapped their sandwiches and took their first bites.  I, too, was about to dig in when, suddenly, I felt a nasty pinch and flapping of feathers. I screamed, just in time to look a seagull right in the eye.  He was trying to get my sandwich, but had gotten my finger instead.  Moments later, another seagull swooped in, this time successfully nabbing a chunk of my son’s sandwich right out of his hand. Looking up, we saw several seagulls circling overhead. “They’re dive-bombing us, Mom!” my son shouted. Then he and his friend stood and started stomping and waving to scare them off. It didn’t work. The seagulls kept circling and swooping.

By now the girls were screaming too. Thankfully, my friend kept her wits about her. “Sit down, everyone,” she said. “I know what to do.”  Then grabbing our boys’ towels, she covered their heads as they sat on their boogie boards, making two makeshift picnic tents.  “If you keep your sandwiches hidden, they won’t dive in,” she explained.  She made similar tent for the girls and one for herself.  And sure enough, they worked!

Just look at the boys…

and the girls….

and my friend.

Alas, I’d forgotten a towel for myself.  My solution?  My son’s orange t-shirt strategically flopped over my wide-brimmed hat provided just enough cover to thwart those nasty seagulls.

Writing sometimes feels a lot like trying to eat lunch at the beach.  I begin the day with great intentions, but as soon as I sit down to write, those seagulls start swooping in. They might not look like birds, but if I’m not careful, things like email, Twitter, Facebook, laundry and dustbunnies, can easily snatch up all my writing time.  What I need is a tent!  For me that means turning off the internet, not answering the phone, and finding a distraction-free place to write.  And if those pecking dustbunnies and flying laundry baskets still distract, I just promise them that I’ll feed them in an hour, after I finish my feeding my muse.

How about you?  Is your writing time ever besieged by seagulls?  If so, what’s your solution?

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog. I post once or twice weekly. Posts are devoted to celebrating reading, writing and life! This post first appeared August 2013 but I thought it as relevant as ever, plus I just returned from a week at the beach where there were lots of… sea gulls!

Creativity, Inspiration, Life, Writing

FINDING YOUR JOYFUL SPOT: Thoughts on Parlor Pliés and Writing

My daughter, aged 17, is away at a ballet intensive for two weeks. I’m not hearing much from her except a few texts that says things like “I love it here!” and “I’m sore from all the dancing, but it’s really good!” and “The girls are nice and we are warming up to each other.” That’s all I need to hear.

Miss A has been a dancer all her life and she inspires me. And maybe because I am missing the sound of her dancing in her room (right above my little morning spot here in the living room), I decided to search “ballet” on my blog and turned up this nugget. It was just what I needed to read this morning as I jump (or perhaps dance) into a morning of writing.

Here it is… straight from the summer of 2015! Enjoy!

Right now my daughter, aged 10, is dancing around the living room to the rich music of Coppelia, a beautiful 19th century ballet. Using a dish towel as a prop, she’s flitting and twirling and swooping to the music in perfect motion. I would love to snap a photo, but she has asked me to remain in the kitchen (where I am cleaning up from supper) and I want to respect her privacy.  But, oh my, each time I peek in I am amazed. She is 100% into the moment – listening to the mood of the music and improvising as she goes.  And, wow, how her movements flow. The result is beautiful!

As a writer, I am taking note. This young budding artist is not letting the inner voices of self doubt and fear of criticism interfere one bit. Perhaps she hasn’t even recognized their pesky little voices yet.

I was never a dancer, but I have distant recollections of that beautiful innocent time when I just let my creativity flow both through writing and drawing without holding back. That phase ended for me in mid-elementary school when I suddenly became self conscious about my writing, especially at school. Thankfully, I continued to write stories and poems for my own pleasure.  Still, it took years for me to return to that safe place where I felt secure enough to really open up and let that creativity flow again.

To reach our full creative potentials, we must follow my sweet daughter’s example and reconnect with that creative sweet spot from our childhood when we felt free to create without inhibition. Will you join me this week in finding the joyful spot? Happy dancing, er writing, all!

Inspiration, Life

FATHER’S DAY WISDOM: Reflections on Taking the LONG CUT in Writing and Life

Not only has my dad always been a loving, caring father (and more recently a wonderful champion of my writing endeavors), he’s also been a life long creator of wonderful phrases that make life a little bit funnier. Memorable dad phrases include “I’m going to get my hairs cut”, instead of haircut, “Don’t worry, Daddy-do-it”, and, my favorite, “Okay, kids, we’re taking the long cut”, the opposite of short cut, which translated means, “I took a wrong turn, so now we’re going to explore”. 

On road trips as a child (and we took many), I remember my mother would often sigh and roll her eyes (in a loving way) when Dad announced that we were taking yet another “long cut” because he was a real stickler for doing it himself (i.e. “Daddy-do-it”) and refused to stop and ask for directions, unless the long cut got really, really long, or if it became apparent that we were just going in circles and even then he might not ask for directions.

But though she might roll her eyes, I think secretly she, and certainly my sister and I, came to really love and appreciate Dad’s “long cuts”. After all, without them, we might never have discovered that little out of the way village with the wonderful bed and breakfast run by a little Scottish woman who took us under her wing the time we got lost, I mean “took the long, long cut” through some Scottish countryside. 

And without one of my dad’s “long cuts” we would never have had the amazing fascination of having a picnic in a field in Spain, next to a big, big rock, only to discover the skeleton of a cow on the far side of the rock!  (Actually, my dad discovered that and wouldn’t let us look, which I for a long time I resented, but which actually I now realize he was doing to save us from losing our appetites).

And without my dad’s “long cuts” we most likely would never have found the perfect lunch spot in a meadow overlooking the Chateau de Chantilly, or have sat on a lonesome bench on a twisty mountain road with a view like this!

Looking back on my childhood, some of my favorite memories are of discovering unexpected and wonderful spots while were were taking “the long cut” between destinations.  I see now that those “long cuts” instilled in me an important life principle, for they taught me, in a wonderfully meandering fashion, that life is richer when I’m not rushing from one pre-determined destination to the next.  In fact, in my opinion, the best part of living is being willing to take the long cut and enjoy the wonderful things you discover along the way.  Thank you, Dad, for instilling that in me!

Now for the writing tie-in:  Like many new writers,  when I first started out, I expected immediate results – i.e reaching my destination without any twists or turns. And I’m embarrassed to say that in those first couple of years, as I was exploring the craft, I submitted stories and poems to publishers far too prematurely.  Now, when I look back at my earliest pieces, I’m amazed at how stilted, clumsy and rough they are.  Indeed, it wasn’t until I slowed down and really started to savor the writing process through yearsof writing daily, reading, studying the craft, attending conferences, and participating in peer critique  (in other words, taking the writerly version of “the long cut”) that I began to develop into the writer I am today (who is still ever-working on improving and expanding her craft). 

So, here is my bit of writerly wisdom for the day:  Writing is not a race to get published. It’s a beautiful “long cut” journey to be savored and enjoyed. So, take heart and be patient. Join a critique group. Attend a conference. Sign up for a writing class. Read a book about writing.  Spend time at the library reading all the picture books you can get your hands on. And, through it all, keep writing, writing, writing! The results may not fit your pre-conceived conceived timeline, but if you keep at it, I think you will find that the “long cut” journey – though not short, to be sure, – is rewarding.

(Note: This post first appeared in Fall 2019, but I’m feeling sentimental and, hey, it’s almost Father’s Day – a perfect reason to celebrate my dad.)

Writing

PRODUCTIVE PATIENCE: Ten Tips to Keep Busy (and PRODUCTIVE) While Waiting for Writerly News

One thing I’ve learned as a picture book author is that the publishing process is SLOW! This SLOWNESS includes not only the writing stage –  school kids are always amazed by how much revision each of my books required – but also the submitting and publishing stages.  When “on sub”, there’s the nail biting while you wait for editors to respond to stories you have submitted for consideration.  That can take months!  Or years (as I have discovered)! And then, once a piece is accepted, it typically takes another two years for a picture book to finally release – mainly because illustrating the book alone takes almost a year.

So, what is an eager writer to do while she (or he) waits?  Here’s a list to inspire you… please add to it in the comments – and inspire me!

  1. Brainstorm new story ideas. Tara Lazar’s annual January STORYSTORM challenge is a great way to jumpstart this.
  2. Keep writing. This includes journaling, working on stories-in-progress and, of course, new pieces. Any combination is fine. Just keep moving forward, writing-wise.
  3. Read, read, read. For me, this means regularly checking out new and classic picture books from the library and analyzing what makes them work – or not.)
  4. Work on building your social media platform.  This can include maintaining your blog and engaging regularly on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. 
  5. Start planning for your book launch.  Planning for a book launch takes lots of coordinating – with bloggers and podcasters if you are planning a book tour, with bookstores, libraries and schools if you are planning events, of course, with your publisher (who will also have great ideas)!  I start planning at least six months in advance.
  6. Get something new ready to sub. While waiting for responses on a manuscript, there’s no reason not to submit something else elsewhere.
  7. Research new markets possibilities. 
  8. Take a day here and there to just do nothing. (That’s an important part of the process too!)
  9. Experiment with a new genre. If you write picture books, try poetry or early chapter books.  You may discover a new writing love!
  10. Develop lesson plans/ extension activities for your upcoming releases. Parents and teachers are always looking for ways to extend the reading experience, so have fun building a nice stock of puzzle, coloring pages, discussion questions and lesson ideas for your stories.  Each one will make a great blog post and/or you can gather them in a packet to have available on your website or on the publisher’s website.

YOUR TURN!  Please inspire us with other ideas for keeping busy (and productive!) while waiting for writerly news.      Happy Waiting, all!

Life, Writing

What’s Your Writerly BEESWAX?

With three weeks until my next book releases, I’ve been busy lining up blog stops, reaching out to schools, preparing for a virtual launch party (stay tuned for details on that very soon) and more. Still, each day, I’m determined to find time to write creatively. And how do I begin each writing session? I begin it beeswax. Curious what beeswax has to do with writing? Find out in this oldie-but goodie post from 2013. That sixth grader is now in college, but I’m ever grateful for the day he introduced me to beeswax. Enjoy!

As a sixth grader, my son is taking a mini-course in home economics. For the sewing component, he hand-stitched a simple felt pocket with a button loop to hang in his locker. He completed most of the “locker dangler” at school, but needed to finish the final step – sewing on the button- at home. After rummaging through my button box for a “funky” button, he was ready to get started.

I’m no seamstress, but I’ve sewn on buttons before. I’ve also hand-stitched doll quilts and sewn on my fair share of Boy Scout patches. So, in a knowing “I’ve done this before” tone of voice, I suggested that he double up his thread so it wouldn’t slip off the needle, but not make it too long, lest it get all twisty and knotted. This sometimes happens to me, and it’s a nuisance, requiring that I back up or start that section over.

My son, however, was resolute. “I’m supposed to do this by myself,” he explained. “And I know what to do.” Then, with remarkable skill, he threaded the needle, doubled up his strand and tied a tidy knot.  Finally, peering into my sewing kit he asked, “Where’s the beeswax?”

“The what?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously. “You know, the beeswax.”  I didn’t know, but now I do, and I think my days of knotted thread might finally be over!  For, as every REAL seamstress knows, a coating of beeswax quickly applied to the thread, not only strengthens and bonds the double strand, it also makes it slippery so the stitches glide knot-free through the fabric.

Sometimes, like thread, my writing feels tight and knotty. The words don’t flow at all.  What I could really use is a little beeswax for my pen, or maybe even for my mind, to loosen me up and get those words gliding.

Thankfully, I think I’m a better writer than a seamstress. Here’s my writerly beeswax: I begin each writing session with 5 minutes (or more if I’m having fun) of just playing with words.  Somedays I’ll free write something that’s on my mind. Other days I’ll open with quick hand written list of, say, all the words that rhyme with shoe, or all the different ways a penny could get lost. Often that’s all I need to get me going.

How about you? What’s your BEESWAX?

Inspiration, Writing

Writing Thoughts: FAIRY Edition!

Miss A and I just returned from a special overnight visit to my sister’s new house in Pennsylvania so the kids could have some much anticipated cousin time!  Since it it was our first time being together in a while we decided to surprise them with a special project – building a fairy garden!  

Finding the perfect spot was easy – I mean just look at the wonderful antique planter.  Next, everyone, including me picked a wooden dwelling to paint. There was lots of chatting and giggling and imagining as we painted. 

Once everything was dry, it was time to build the garden, adding a river and even a dangling precipice for the gazebo. Doesn’t it look wonderful? 

Now, inspired by my life-long fascination with fairies (which has clearly rubbed off on my daughter and her cousins) here are three fairy-themed writing posts to inspire your creativity and foster some writing skills in your little ones. 

Fairy Post #1: One of my favorite early morning activities as a child visiting my grandparents was to tiptoe across their dewy lawn in search of fairy wash. Do you know what I’m talking about?  Find out in this oldie-but-goodie: FAIRYWASH: Capturing Ideas Before They Evaporate.

Fairy Post #2: A few years ago, my daughter and I (this was at the height of our own fairy garden building frenzy) were delighted to discover the most amazing fairy forest at Boxerwood Gardens in Lexington, VA.  See how that inspired my writing in this special post: BOXERWOOD FAIRY FOREST: Learning from the Experts.

Fairy Post #3: Find out how I used my daughter’s love of our fairy garden to foster letter writing skills in my reluctant reader and writer in this sweet post: HAPPY SPRING: Time to Write Fairy Letters!

Happy Writing, Fairy Style!

Inspiration, Writing

Write like a…DOG!!!

I love my early morning walks with our sweet cockapoo, Sophie. For me, it’s a chance to get some morning exercise and enjoy the freshness of a brand new day. I often have my camera with me so I can snap pictures of glorious moments – like spotting a purple orb – or discovering sidewalk chalk art drawn by a child. But for Sophie it’s all about scent and sound! Indeed, it’s first with nose and ears, not eyes, that she notices a cottontail bunny or crinkling leaf or sweet clover.  She even sniffs out long forgotten, and apparently smelly, tennis balls, hidden deep in our pachysandra.

Just for fun, I sometimes close my eyes and try to soak up the world from Sophie’s perspective. When I do, it’s amazing how heightened my other senses become. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:  flags flapping, gate hinges creaking, wild onion smells so pungent you can almost taste them,  fresh coffee wafting out the neighbor’s kitchen window, the tickle of a lady bug bare skin, and the coolness of wet grass between my toes.

As writers for young children I think we could all benefit from closing our eyes sometimes.  I don’t mean burying our heads in the sand so that our writing is sappy and disconnected from reality. Of course not. What I mean is that my writing, at least, tends towards the visual if I’m not careful. But when I’m intentional (and close my eyes) my other senses kick in and my writing is enriched. Using multi- sensory imagery is especially important in picture books and other illustrated pieces, such as poems for magazines, where the illustrations already provide plenty of visual detail. So, go ahead, close your eyes and feel those other senses kick in. That’s my plan this week. Happy writing all!

Writing

FINDING A CRITIQUE GROUP: Four TIPS for NEW WRITERS

After singing the praises of critique groups, I think it’s only fair now to offer a few tips on how to find a good critique group. After all, finding a critique group can be daunting, especially for a new writer who has been spending most of her/his time writing in isolation. At least, that was my experience as a new writer. I first posted these tips in September of 2016, but they are just as applicable today.

Here then are four tips, I’ve found helpful:

  1. Look inward.  First, decide what you want out of a critique group. Do you want an in-person group or an on-line group? Do you want a genre-specific group (i.e. picture books or poetry, YA or MG etc) or would you like a mix of genres? How much time are you willing to spend per week/month writing critiques? How often do you want to be responsible for submitting work? How big or small do you want the group to be?
  2. Network, network, network.  Once you have a sense of what you want from a critique group, you can use your social networks (on-line and in person) to see if anyone you know is part of a group. If so, is that group open to new members?  Another good strategy is to be pro-active at conferences to see if anyone is in a group that is interested in new members.  The SCBWI blue boards also have a thread devoted to critique groups seeking new members so that’s another possible venue to tap.  Finally, check your local library and book stores to see if they have groups that meet there.
  3. Do a little research.  Once you’ve discovered some potential groups, do a little research. Do the groups have both new and seasoned writers?  Have any members of the group be process? (In my experience, most of the better groups do.)
  4. Give it a try.  Once you have done all of the above, it might be time to take the leap and give it a try! If you feel it is the right step for you, apply to the group that sounds best for you.

Thanks for checking out these tips! I hope you will find, as I have, that being part of a critique group makes all the difference in your growth as a writer.  Happy writing, all!

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

Life, Writing

QUIET WALKS and BABY SQUIRRELS: Four Tips To Help the Writer in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew!)

On a recent walk, I noticed a squirrel scurrying up and down a tree carrying bits of thatch and leaves, to line her nursery, I guessed.  A couple weeks later this baby squirrel showed up on my porch. Could he be one her babies, I wondered? 

I don’t about you, but during this pandemic, going on walks has become a soul-nurturing necessity, so every day I strive to intentionally slow down and savor the little things. With all that’s going on the world right now, it would be easy to miss these little glimpses of joy and wonder and that would be a colossal shame. 

This deliberate slowing down has gotten me thinking about my life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying writing days are those in which I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder chirping birds or baby squirrels (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world with the child-like wonder we all once possessed.

Heaven knows, the publishing world moves slowly enough, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from pausing to see the world from the unrushed and wondrous perspective of a child!

Now, in celebration of child-like wonder and the pleasures of slowing down, I offer you:

 FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

  1. SPEND TIME with a CHILD.  There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one.  Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes. (During this time of social distancing, this can be done virtually!)
  1. CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still – or go on a quiet walk as I do. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel!  And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
  1. DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS.  As soon as libraries and bookstores re-open, settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ!  Pick old favorites as well as newer titles.  Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.  (And for now, go investigate the books you have on hand, or tune in to the many virtual read-alouds that are temporarily available – thanks to the generosity of many publishers – during this unprecedented time.)
  1. Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS.  These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings.  I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it.  I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.

Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and revel in the wonder of small joys – both new and old – and transform them into amazing new writing pieces.  

Creativity, Writing

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!