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Life Lesson: Use it or Lose it!

Let’s start with a picture that I drew back in 1999 or thereabouts. I was in college then, studying a mixture of science and humanities. I dabbled with art just for fun. Sometimes I drew doodles of animals and mailed them (in an envelope with a STAMP, can you imagine?!) to my sister. One time I sent her a cartoon about “Dangerous Alley Rabbits.”

No photo description available.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is great art. I was never great at art. But I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t sketch a scene with alley rabbits that’s even as “good” as that now. See, I quit drawing for fun. In the last few years I’ve done a bit of painting, but I am not in the habit of sketching or doodling anymore.

And it shows, as you can see from this 2019 doodle:

That little bird has personality, but it also has . . . problems? It’s not like I can draw from my memories of holding a pencil twenty years ago; I’ve forgotten how to do it.

That’s my lesson for February: if you don’t lose your skills, you may lose them. I think this is the flip side of the saying that “practice makes perfect.” You need to practice not just so you progress, but so that you don’t regress. This applies to music, to art, and (I think) to writing.

So keep writing! (Or drawing, or stitching, or otherwise making.) Use it or lose it!



Challenges, Picture Book Journey

The Picture Book Journey: Get ready to write a LOT

One of the things I didn’t know when I first started writing picture books was that you need to write a lot. Like many writers, I thought I would write one book and then try to find a home for it.

The reality is that what you OUGHT to do is write another picture book manuscript, and another, and another. Kate Messner explains why in this post on “Picture Book Math,” which anyone who wants to write picture books should read.

What I want to talk about here is how you can write a lot. One of the tricks I discovered last year is Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm, a one-month challenge that encourages people to generate a month’s worth of story ideas. It’s not as daunting as it may sound, because there’s also a month’s worth of reading about how to generate ideas.

Last year, I was so excited by StoryStorm that there were many days when, rather than just writing out an idea, I actually sat down and dashed out a whole draft. I happen to be a fast drafter, and I had more free time due to a sabbatical, so I had a number of complete drafts at the end of the month, in addition to a page or two of ideas. That was great in some ways. Writing so many drafts in one month gave me a lot of material to work with as I tried to learn my craft.

I’m still trying to learn the craft, of course. But I already have drafts from last year that need revision. Plus, I have a new semester of teaching to prepare for. So while I admit that I’ve already turned one of my StoryStorm ideas into a January draft, I’m trying to pace myself. Dashing off a first draft is probably the most fun part of writing for me, but it isn’t necessarily what I need to be working on now. (Have I mentioned that revision is my nemesis?)

Of course, when we get to the first week of May, all bets are off, because that’s National Picture Book Writing Week!  A challenge that involves drafting a new story every day for a week is prefect. And it’s demanding: by the end of that week, even I needed a break from drafting.

For now, I’m trying to balance the work of generating new ideas –which is important–with my need to focus on revision and polishing. Picture book writers, how do you balance those two?

writing tips

The Picture Book Journey: You Can’t Do it Alone

I don’t remember the exact date on which I began writing picture books, but I know it was after the birth of my first child in 2012. We read to him every day, and as I read, I thought: “I bet I could write a picture book, too.”

I wasn’t coming to creative writing completely out of nowhere. I had written novels and short stories as a teenager. I had a handful of poems published in literary journals during my college and early graduate school years. I had taken a college course on writing short fiction as an undergraduate, and I had read a book about writing for children from cover to cover.

So, I thought I had some clue what I was doing. But I could write a whole series about the things I DIDN’T know about creative writing in general and picture book writing in general.

For me, the biggest thing I didn’t know was that I needed a community. You cannot become a writer by yourself. You need critique partners. You need mentors. You need a cheer squad. In short, you need peeps! 

I had read enough about writing to know that everyone says you need a critique group, but I somehow thought that I was different. Like, I was a good enough writer that I could do it without a writing community. 

Ha ha ha ha ha! 

I sent my first query to an agent a little over five years ago, in November of 2013.  It’s only in the last year that I’ve ever had encouraging responses or revise-and-resubmit requests from agents or editors.  What changed? While I’ve grown in a lot, probably the biggest and most important change is that in the last year, I became part of a community of picture book writers.

So that’s my tip to anyone reading this blog who thinks “I’d like to write for children.” I bet you can! But it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take hard work. You’re going to have to learn  your craft. And you’re going to need to find your peeps.

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Halloweensie 2018: “The Halloween Guest.”

Later, maybe I’ll make a proper introduction post. But today, I’m going to jump right into blogging with my entry for Susanna Hill’s “Halloweensie” contest. Here it is, my 100 word Halloween story:

“The Halloween Guest”

 

Halloween night was stormy. Grimalkin huddled under a dripping bush. Shiver!

When the witch’s cottage door cracked open, he took his chance and ran inside. Warmth! Light!

“Shoo, cat!” grumbled Tansy the witch.  A howl of the wind softened her heart: “You can stay, but just for the night.”

Grimalkin explored. So much to see: jars of herbs; bottles of potions; bubbling cauldron!

Sniff! That potion didn’t smell right. Grimalkin tipped a little catnip in and stirred clockwise. Better!

Tansy tasted the potion. “Sweet! With magic like that, you’d be a great familiar. What do you say?”

“Purr!” said Grimalkin.

monochrome photography of black cat
Photo by Crina Doltu on Pexels.com