Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writer's Block

The best advice I read of late for curing writer's block is a technique that can be encouraged to children. Children will often whine about not knowing what to write about, or use characters that already exist. Try this exercise. Tell them to choose not one, not two, but THREE characters they know and like. BUT, they have to go further. For one, choose a strength. For another, choose a flaw. And the last, use their looks. Combine the three elements and you'll have a new character. Of course, Dear Editor explained it a little better.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Music Helps Me Write

Three of the songs played at my brother's funeral (years ago) often bring about strong feelings. When my parents divorced (YEARS ago), my sister hated country music because it made her think of Mom. It made her sad. When you hear a song you love, you might want to sing out loud or get up and dance.

Music is powerful. I love music. And I love to write. Put the two together and you get poetry. Pure language at its finest. I don't necessarily need music in order to spill words onto the page, but I try to incorporate musical elements into my writing. Music and poetry have a lot in common. And picture books especially often have musical qualities. Here's how you can use music to make your writing stronger:

  1. Listen to music, sing it, memorize the words to your favorite songs. Let the rhythms and repetitions get ingrained in your soul.
  2. Read picture books. Look for rhythms and repetitions.
  3. Create rhythms.
  4. Use repetition.
  5. Read literary novels. The language in this genre is often more rich than in other genres (such as romance or mystery, etc.).
  6. Play with children. Listen to them. Laugh with them.
  7. Dance.
  8. Use a varied amount of alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia.
  9. Use vivid imagery.
  10. And above all, tell a good story. Some of the best songs tell great stories!
Have fun! And Happy 4th of July!

What's your favorite type of music? Or some of your favorite artists?

Keep on keepin' on...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

HIGH FIVE #9: Don't Let Grammar Fears Stop You From Writing

Flashlight Press, 2009
Welcome, Amanda! Thanks for joining us today. Your first picture book, I Need My Monster is a delightful book. Congratulations!
When Gabe, the monster that lives under Ethan's bed, goes on vacation, Ethan finds that the substitute monsters Gabe has sent just won't do and wonders how he will ever fall asleep.
Question ONE: How has reading picture books to your children made you a better parent?

I think spending close, quality time with my children is critical. In a world where there is so much upheaval, they need to know they have a safe place and loving family. Reading together is a great way to foster that.

I couldn't agree more. Well said.

Question TWO: What are three of your favorite picture books (because we all know you have way more than three)?

I don’t really remember reading picture books as a child – I know I did, my childhood is mostly a blur. Some of my favorites now are: 
  1. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch 
  2. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka 
  3. The Empty Pot by Demi
I've never heard of The Empty Pot. I'll have to search that one out.

Question THREE: How did you come up with the idea for your debut book? And what was your road to publication like? How many revisions did your manuscript undergo, if you kept count? Did you have an agent? How many publishers did you submit to before getting an acceptance letter?

One night, after my 3 year old daughter, got out of bed again. I wished she was afraid of monsters. At the time she was afraid of almost everything, but monsters did not phase her one bit. I know this is a poor reflection on my parenting skills, but I was desperate to get some rest. I had recently given birth to our fourth child. I think the lack of sleep plus the desire for her to stay in bed spawned the idea that if she did have a monster, he was doing a lousy job or maybe he just needed a vacation. The story evolved from there. 

The road to publication was long and rocky. My manuscript underwent several revisions as it worked its way through my critique group and then more with my editor. In total it was about 11 revisions.

I don’t have an agent. Despite winning several state awards I’m still not able to attract the right agent – yet.
I submitted the manuscript to 22 publishing houses and agents. Flashlight held it for a year before committing to a contract. I submitted to them in 2005. We worked on revisions together through 2006. By 2007 they offered me a contract. The book was released in 2009.

What a long road we writers submit ourselves to. Hope you find the right agent when the time is right. In the mean time, here's to hoping you get a second book published soon.

Question FOUR: How might teachers use your book in the classroom?

Here is an amazing and comprehensive lesson plan. It’s a beautiful thing, but I don’t know who to give the credit to. Many teachers use the “monster bits” page as a springboard to help students create a drawing of their own monster. I’ve heard some teachers use this page to teach students about predicting and understanding how many different monster combinations can be produced using 2 or 3 variations of one feature. 

Ooh! That would be a GREAT MATH lesson!

You can create a “monster glyph” by assigning different features to be drawn on a monster, according to the student’s own experiences. For example, if you’re a boy draw a tall monster, if you have siblings draw a tail, draw a horn for each person who lives in your house. 

That's a great activity for listening and following directions. Everybody's monster will undoubtedly look different, and be lots of fun, too.

Many teachers love the rich vocabulary and encourage students to create their own list of descriptive words for a monster. There’s a lot to work with!

Question FIVE: What are some writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?

I struggle with grammar and spelling. For a long time I let that stop me from writing. If you really want to tell a story, you’ll find a way!

Keep writing until you write something that everyone else loves as much as you do. It’s a long, hard road, but it’s worth it.

You have to write – a lot! Keep writing until you have a handle on the craft. Surround yourself with a supportive critique group. Write when nobody else believes in you.

Don’t wait until you retire to start writing! It really does take 7 – 10 years to see your first book in print. If you plan to write for a career, start now.

Also, it’s important to write books that are current. Don’t try to write the kind of story you grew up with. Publishers don’t want dated material. Read! Read! Read!

Thank you so very much for your time! It was delightful to learn from you. I'm inspired by your dedication, knowledge, and willingness to share. Thanks, again.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Storytelling is Powerful

ice cream cone 2scoopLately, I am filled with small epiphanies. This morning, it was a commercial so powerful I said, "Wow! How'd they do that?" It was all in the storytelling. As writers, and hopefully as humans, we know that words are powerful. And words tell stories. Storytelling is very powerful, too. The commercial had no music. It was a regular guy talking in a regular way, an advertisement for a restaurant. He started out by saying, "Let me tell you about something funny that happened to me the other day." He's walking down the street with a big ol' ice cream cone, enjoying life and the nice warm weather. Someone stops him and says, "Hey, man, where'd you get that ice cream cone?" And he answers with the restaurant name (I already forgot - but it's in a town an hour and a half from mine), "You know, the place right on Main Street, across from the Court House?" The onlooker asks how much it cost ($2.00) and then offers the man $4.00. The man on the commercial says, "I licked that ice cream all the way around and handed it to the guy. 'I'll take $5.00.'"

I could just SEE this ice cream being licked, FEEL it even. I could SEE and HEAR this conversation actually happening, like a scene from a book. I really wanted an ice cream cone after that powerful commercial. So tell your stories. Tell them to the world. They are powerful, and so are you. And go eat some ice cream. Happy 4th of July!

Come back tomorrow for our HIGH FIVE interview with a debut author!


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