Monday, May 2, 2016

Once Upon a Block-ness Monster

Mary Ann wrote about her emotional journey as she worked on her MBN (My Big Novel), and how a devastating writer’s block stopped its progress for ten years. I’m still reeling from her honesty about her struggles. 

The term “writer’s block” was coined by psychiatrist Edmund Bergler in the 1940s. He studied writers for two decades, trying to understand why they suffered from “neurotic inhibitions of productivity.” There were several popular theories at the time. Some thought the writers simply used up all their inspirations and was dry of further creative thought. The landlord theory supported the notion that the writing stopped as soon as the rent was paid, implying that it was the struggle itself that fed the creative juices. In 1950, Bergler published his findings in his article, Does Writer’s Block Exist? His conclusions were that a writer was like a psychoanalyst. And a blocked writer was, in essence, blocked psychologically.

There have been other studies since Bergler, all trying to understand this creative “block-ness.” (See Maria Konnikova, How to Beat Writer’s Block, The New Yorker: March 11, 2016) Despite the many, many reasons why one suffers from creative block, everyone has in common certain experiences: their motivation has wavered, they felt less joy in the process, and they had “low levels of positive and constructive mental imagery.”

Writer’s block doesn’t only happen to writers, despite the term. Anyone who creates anything in any format can find herself in a position of “block-ness.” You have an idea, or you have a thousand ideas all at once, but either way, you don’t know where to begin. Or you’re rolling along on your MBN when suddenly, life happens. When you finally return to your MBN, you’re stuck and have no idea how to get unstuck. You’ve fallen and can’t get up. Or worse, not only did you hit a dead end, you’ve come to believe you are not good enough, and no amount of revision is going to improve the MBN, or you. During these times, you may give up completely, and abandon your dreams. When this happens, the block-ness monster wins.

There are many popular strategies you can use to overcome creative block. Keep a journal. Take a break. Take a walk, or a run. Take a nap. Find a guru. Talk to a friend, or a therapist, or both. In the end, I think it’s also about rediscovering your purpose. To illustrate what I mean, I offer the following story, written by Marc and Angel Chernoff. (This is my revamped synopsis, shortened significantly to fit our TA  format. For the full text and discussion, see Marc & Angel, An Open Letter to Those Who Have Lost Their Motivation)


Once there was a young girl who dreamed of traveling the world. But as she grew up, she found many reasons why she couldn’t go. She was always busy building a good life for herself.

When the young girl turned 65, and was now an old woman, she decided it was time to finally travel the world. She sold all of her possessions, keeping only those precious essentials she could carry in a backpack.

 And then, finally, finally, she set out to have the adventure of a lifetime.   At first, she was amazed at everything she saw. She was filled with awe at every turn.  She kept walking, even when it rained. When there was no road, she walked across fields. She slept outside so she could see the stars.

A few weeks into her journey, however, she began to feel her age. Her feet were sore, and every bone in her body ached. She was tired of the rain, and the hills. She was tired of sleeping on rocks. She began to miss the comforts and routines of her old life. She wondered what her friends were doing. Every day, she grew more tired until finally, she couldn’t take another step.

 She sat down, on the side of the road, looking ahead. There was no end in sight. It seemed an impossible task. She began to cry, and with every tear, her despair grew.

“I have nothing left!” she shouted. I’ve sold everything to do this, and now I can’t go another step! This was such a stupid idea!”

It just so happens, a Master Guru lived in the woods, and he listened to the old woman wail. He decided to help her, because that’s what Master Gurus do. He waited until she slept. And then, ever so quiet, he took her backpack, and disappeared back into the woods.

When the old woman finally woke, she discovered her backpack – all that she had left in this world – was missing. Now she felt really lost. Now she really did have nothing. She cried until she had no tears left. She sat there, for a long long time, wondering what to do. Finally, she gathered herself together and started walking. Her feet still hurt, and her bones ached. Her back didn’t feel very good after a night on the rocky road. But she kept going, one step at a time. And with every step, her strength returned.

Miles later down the road, lo and behold, there lay her backpack, filled with her most precious items. She smiled, ear to ear, and said, “At least now I can keep going…”

"Keep going.

One small step at a time." -- Marc and Angel


Bobbi Miller
(PS all photos are courtesy of I thought the cat was particularly charming.)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Final Poem in Your Pocket for Poetry Month 2016

Howdy Campers! was your Poetry Month?  We TeachingAuthors celebrated our 7th (!) Blogiversary (with a book giveaway--details in that link).

Mine was a blur of activity because my new Passover picture book came out, I'm teaching this quarter, and there were a gazillion other things I was going to tell you but that I can't actually remember right now. But they were important. And they were right here a minute ago...

Photo of me from
Poetry Month is ending for me this weekend in a cheerful house by a dreamy creek with a bit of yoga. That, right there, is a poem, don't you think?

Although Poem in Your Pocket Day was officially April 21st this year, I'm offering one more to close out this delicious month.

I was looking through bird poems I've written, and this one made me want to tap dance. And I am not a tap dancer.

So here's my tap dancing thank you to every bird in the Kidlitosphere-and-beyond who've splashed into this poetry pond intending to stay only a minute or two...and who have now build cheerful homes here.

A Kidlitosphere Poetry Friday selfie

by April Halprin Wayland

There's a sound crows make when they gather in a crowd.
It's a woody kind of note and it's not very loud

like knuckles that are rapping on the front porch door
or a tap dancer tapping on the cracked dance floor.

When one crow makes it, the whole crowd stops.
I wonder what it means, this woodland knock?

There's a hawk in the clouds? There's a hunter on the ground?
I watch them and I practice, teach my tongue to make that sound.

Listen—I can do it! Now my mouth knows how to knock.I'm a smooth feathered bird-- I can talk crow talk.

poem (c) 2016 by April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

This is actually true: I know one word in crow.      

And another thing that's true: you still have time to enter TeachingAuthor's 7th Blogiversary Giveaway to win the newest edition of  Carmela Martino's new edition of  Rosa, Sola (which got a starred review in BookList)! Read all about it and enter our giveaway here.

Thank you for hosting PF today, Buffy!

posted by April Halprin Wayland, tick-tock-clocking with her tongue

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Scariest Thing on Earth--Your WIP (Work in Progress)

     I have been writing the same book for over 10 years.

     No, I haven't been staring at a blank screen for 10 years. In fact, I've written and published another middle grade novel, five picture books and had two short stories in YA anthologies. However, with all that activity going on, My Big Novel bubbled away on the back burner. While I was writing and revising the other works, I was writing and researching MBN. This is a story based on my father's family and their survival of a major natural disaster. (I'm not going to describe it any further, because the more you write or talk about your WIP, the less you actually work on the story itself.)
Some of the characters of MBN--the Rodman family, from left,  Great Aunt Beulah, my grandparents Mabel and George Rodman (the dude with the titled hat) and great-grandfather, Sam.

    Life hummed along until one day, I realized there was nothing on the front burner of my writing stove. Time to move MBN to the big front burner.

    I panicked. When I was worked on MBN along with something else, I wasn't aware of what a huge story I was trying to tell. It's written in free verse (something I'd never attempted before), from multiple points of view (ditto.)  While my usual first readers had been enthusiastic about what they shad read, I made the mistake of showing it to an agent at a conference. He was less than enthused about it's "marketability" ("historical fiction doesn't sell.") That was enough to stop me dead in my writing tracks. Suddenly, I saw a million flaws in the story I'd been so passionate about for years. Worse, I realized the enormity of what I was trying to do.  I scared myself into a big fat writer's block.

    I've been blocked before. I would work on something else for awhile, and when I came back to the original book, I could blast that block to kingdom come.

    Not this time. Soon after my disastrous conversation with the agent, my mother died. This was the beginning of a years long string of family tragedies, emergencies and dramas that fell to me to handle.  This pretty well zapped my creative energy.  Add to that, the economy was circling the drain just as five of my books were published. Library budgets were circling the drain as well. Three of the five went out of print within 18 months. In addition to blocked, frazzled and depressed, I was now demoralized. No way I could write MBN. Besides, as the agent had said "Who would want to read this?"

    My lovely editors were all leaving the business for one reason or another. Any submissions I made now would be like starting all over again. So I taught my Young Author's Camps, thinking that my publishing days were over.

    That's where I made my mistake. All I thought about was publishing MBN.  I had forgotten about writing a story I thought was compelling (despite what that agent said). I was losing family members who had been looking forward to their story being told. They didn't care if it was published...they would've been happy with a printed copy in a three-ring binder. Worst of all, I was now teaching the siblings of my first Young Authors.  Siblings who had been told the story of MBN (back when I still talked about it) and were disappointed that it wasn't published yet. I couldn't tell them it wasn't even sort of finished. Not when I spend a week (six times a summer) telling these kids they can do anything, to not listen to their inner negative critic, etc. Oh yeah, Ms Rodman, I can imagine them saying, well then how come you didn't finish your story?
At right, Sharon Rodman Blazek, one of my most important literary cheerleaders. The other person is me. We are celebrating out 18th birthdays (10 days apart.)

     So with two of my most favorite people in the world (who also happen to be Rodman cousins) cheering me on, I am back at it. MBN lives. Two adult non-fiction accounts of this event haven been published in the past couple of years so I have new material to be excited about. (And I have to admit, I am now afraid someone else may beat me to the punch with this same story.) I am no longer obsessed with whether it is published traditionally or not. So many of my friends are self-publishing, that for the first time, I am allowing myself to think of that as an option.

   As for the enormity of the story itself...I remind myself of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird.  The title comes from one of her family's stories.  Anne's little brother found himself trying to write a huge report on bird life, due the next day. A  report he had had three months to write. As he moaned aloud how could he possibly write this enormous assignment in one night, his father (a writer himself) answered "Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird."

    And so I am.  And so I will. Event by event, character by character.

   Don't forget to enter our Blogiversary Giveaway for the new-and-improved edition of Carmela's MG historical fiction, Rosa, Sola.  For details, see last Friday's post.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, April 22, 2016

Celebrating our Seventh Blogiversary with a Cover Reveal and Book Giveaway!

Seven years ago TODAY, I inaugurated the TeachingAuthors blog with this post. Hard to believe that much time has passed, and that, despite talk of the decline of blogging in general and writers' blogs in particular, we're still around! I'm especially happy to be here today to share a cover reveal, and GIVEAWAY, of the soon-to-be-released updated edition of my middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola. And, speaking of updates, I'm also sharing a revised edition of April's lovely poem, "Blog-i-verse-a-tree," in honor of Poetry Friday.

I mentioned last month that after an unsuccessful search for a publisher to bring Rosa, Sola back into print, I decided to independently publish the novel in ebook and paperback formats. My first step was consulting several fellow authors for help and advice on the process. Jane Hertenstein, who self-published an ebook version of her novel Beyond Paradise (originally published by Morrow), suggested I include new material in the revised edition to appeal to parents and teachers . What a brilliant idea!

Before I tell you about that new material, let me give you a brief summary of the novel:
Rosa, Sola, is the story of Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago. Rosa often feels alone, or sola, as her parents would say. When Rosa’s prayers for a sibling are answered, she is overjoyed—until tragedy strikes. Rosa is left feeling more sola than ever, and wondering if her broken family will ever be whole again.
The original hardcover edition contained a glossary in the back that provided English translations of the Italian words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text (though I did work hard to make their meaning apparent from the context). The back matter in the new edition will also include discussion questions and links to information about Italian-American culture. I'm hoping this new material will prove especially useful to teachers and homeschooling parents who'd like to incorporate Rosa, Sola into their lessons.

In researching indie publishing, I learned the importance of having a professional-looking, attention-grabbing cover. I decided it was worth the investment to hire a book designer. Based on the recommendation of another writing friend, bestselling indie author Megg Jensen, I contacted and eventually hired Steven Novak. After communicating back and forth via email for several weeks, Steven and I came up with the new cover. First, let me remind you what the original cover, designed by Candlewick Press, looked like:

And here is the cover for the new edition:

I think Steven did a GREAT job! In a later post, I'll talk about the process of how we came up with this cover. Meanwhile, I hope you'll share your reaction to it in the comments. Does this cover look like it fits the summary of the novel I shared above? Does it look like something that would appeal to readers ages 9-12? Your comment can qualify you to enter our Blogiversary Giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of the new edition of Rosa, Sola. See the details below.

And now, as part of our blogiversary celebration, let me share once more April's marvelous poem, "Blog-i-verse-a-tree."

If you missed April's recent Wednesday Writing Workout about how she came up with this poem, you can read it here, AFTER you've entered our giveaway below.

And now, for our blogiversary giveaway info:

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win one of THREE giveaway copies of the new edition of Rosa, Sola (release date to be announced). You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! 

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

The giveaway ends May 11 and is open to U.S. residents only.

After you've entered, don't forget to head over to Jama's Alphabet Soup for this week's Poetry Friday round-up!

Good luck and happy writing!

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wednesday Writing Workout: Take a Walk!

Here in Wisconsin, spring is taking its time as usual. Gradual warmups and sudden temperature drops are part of its annual appearance. The other day, we woke to snow on our just-sprouting flowers. I looked outside and decided to use what was right in front of me in a poem to express my impatience with the process.

Outside our kitchen window, a goldfinch in its bright spring plumage perched on the thistle feeder. What a happy sight! I tried to think of another positive detail. Well, I realized, since Daylight Saving Time, at least it's staying lighter later. But--and this is the point--it's still so cold! And there was my first stanza, planned in my head before I even picked up a pen.

No, that doesn't always happen.

Other details  organized themselves into second and third stanzas: daffodils burdened by a heavy layer of snow. Would they recover? Probably. We've seen that happen before. Icy puddles? Yes, of course.

Then I went for a walk. As I stopped to gaze at someone else's daffodils, I found an opportunity to add personification to my poem: they were not just "beneath what every flower dreads / clumps of snow" but "wearing what a flower dreads / coats of snow."

Then I decided that the flower description was too obvious. I changed the adjective from "yellow" to "bobbing" and the verb from "nod" to "bow," adding alliteration that might not have occurred to me had I not been standing in front of the daffodils. Here's the poem with those revisions.

Any Day Now 
Goldfinches are brightening.
The evening sky is lightening.
But wind chills still are frightening.
When will we see spring? 
Daffodils in flower beds
bow their bobbing flower heads
wearing what a flower dreads:
coats of snow that cling. 
The puddles April showers bring
are icy now from winds that sting.
Winter weighs on everything!
When will we see spring?

Stuck on a poem? Use what's in front of you. Look out a window. Go for a walk. Somehow the regular rhythm of walking helps, too.

Tomorrow is National Poem in Your Pocket Day! Read the other Teaching Authors posts in this series to discover some of our favorite poems. And remember to carry one of your favorites!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mother Goose

My first grandchild will be born soon.  But what does that have to do with poetry?

This weekend my sisters hosted a baby shower for the family.   There was lots of food, gifts and kids.  One of the party games was competing to see who could ring the bell first and finish the line of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. 

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jumped over
the __________  __________.

Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater,
Had a wife and couldn't keep her;
He put her in a _______  _______,
And there he kept her very well.

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet,

Eating her _______  and _______;

Hey! diddle, diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over ____  ______;

What surprised me is the children in our family did not know these nursery rhymes.  At least not well enough to answer most of them.  I knew all them well.  And it occurred to me that these rhymes are where my idea of poetry came from.  Which might explain why I know very little about poems. 

I must admit that as a nonfiction writer, when I read these nursery rhymes I’m less interested in the poems themselves and more interested in finding out things like:  Who was Mother Goose?  When were these poems written?  And what exactly is curds and whey?  

My fellow TAs are gifted poets and I greatly admire their work.  

Me, not so much.  I’ll sum it up with a poem I wrote myself:       

I’m no poet,

and I know it. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Friday, April 15, 2016

Post #999, and the Poem in My Pocket

In honor of National Poetry Month, today I'll be sharing the Poem in My Pocket. But first, a word about a blog milestone. When I went to create this post, I noticed it will the 999th we've published here on TeachingAuthors!

The REAL celebration begins one week from today, when we commemorate our SEVENTH blogiversary! Hard to believe we've been at this that long. I speak for all the TeachingAuthors when I say we're so very grateful for the wonderful connections we've made through this blog. But more on that next week.

For today, I want to continue our current topic. In honor of next Thursday's Poem in Your Pocket Day, each TA is sharing the poem in her pocket. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading all the choices so far. (If you missed them, Bobbi provides links along with her pocket poem in her post.)

I haven't been writing poetry lately, so instead of trying to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month I decided to read one. After Myra's post at Gathering Books introduced me to Mary Oliver's Felicity (Penguin), I chose that wonderful collection as the source of my poems for this month.

When I read the very first poem, "Don't Worry," on April 1st, I felt as though Oliver was speaking directly to me. I've been feeling frustrated about how long it's taking me to complete several major writing projects, especially my project to indie publish Rosa, Sola to bring it back into print. Oliver's poem was just what I needed that day, which happened to be Good Friday, a day of fasting and prayer for me:

    Don't Worry
    by Mary Oliver

    Things take the time they take. Don't

    How many roads did St. Augustine follow
        before he became St. Augustine?

         from Felicity © 2015

As I continue along this treacherous, twisty road of children's publishing, having Oliver's poem in my pocket gives me solace and inspiration. I'm looking forward to finding more inspiration in this week's Poetry Friday roundup, which is at Michelle's Little Ditty. If you don't already have a poem for your pocket, perhaps you'll find one there!
Happy writing!