We are happy to welcome author, poet, and teacher Ann Whitford Paul to TeachingAuthors.com as our first Guest Teaching Author. Ann is the author of 17 picture books for children. Her poetry has been published in numerous anthologies, and she teaches picture book writing through the UCLA extension program. Ann’s latest book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication (Writer’s Digest Books) is her first book for adults. [We plan to review Ann's book in an upcoming post.]
To celebrate Ann’s appearance on our blog, we are giving away an autographed copy of Writing Picture Books. To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post. Also, be sure to come back Friday, when we begin our own series of posts on writing picture books.
Ann, can you tell us how you became a Teaching Author?
I started teaching writing in gratitude to the wonderful teachers who poked and prodded and pushed me to write my best, and who shared the secrets of their craft. It took me five years of writing and 118 rejections before I sold my first manuscript. Hopefully by teaching I can help other authors reach their goal of publication before I did. When speaking to students still in school, I hope my experience will encourage them not to give up on any dreams they may have for their future.
What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address/answer it?
My adult students always want to know first of all how to get an agent and I tell them that their first question should be: How do I write a fantastic, one-of-a-kind picture book?
My students in elementary school are usually most curious about how I get my ideas. Contrary to what they believe, it isn’t a magical process. In fact, ideas are all around us. The problem is we don’t trust our ideas will be of interest to others. Let me give you an example. I wrote a picture book titled Hello Toes! Hello Feet! Everyone could write a book about feet and each book would be different, because we each bring our own emotions and outlook to the subject. Too often writers say, “Anyone could write about feet. It’s too boring.” What if I had told myself that this was a silly, stupid subject? It never would have become a book. Trust that the things that grab you will also grab an audience, and trust that your take on a subject will be unique.
Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
My favorite exercise that I share with adults and children and that I use often to find my passion on a subject requires choosing an object, any object at all. It can be an eraser, a marshmallow, a paper clip, a green bean, etc. Then I give them a sheet of paper (pictured below). It has four columns. The first is titled FACTS, the second FANTASY, then FEELINGS and last of all FUZZY CONNECTIONS. In the first column, list all your factual observations, i.e. size, color, smell etc. In the next column, let your mind go wild. What if your object, say a green bean, was really a pencil that wrote only green vegetable words. Maybe it’s a rocket taking fleas to Mars. In the column marked FEELINGS you could bring up old memories. Perhaps green beans made you gag when you were a child or you remember fondly helping your mom gather them from the garden. FUZZY CONNECTIONS should call forth metaphors and similes. Write and write and write any ideas that come into your head. Don’t worry if you put a fuzzy connections under feelings. Just keep writing until you can’t think of any more. Then go back over your paper. Invariably I find I’ve written something down that grabs me or turns on a little light in my brain that says, “I’d like to write about that.” If not, start all over again with a different object.
What a wonderful exercise, Ann. It will make a great Writing Workout for our readers, and for writing teachers. Can you tell us, what one piece of advice would you give teachers?
My advice: Forget about book reports. Watching my children, now grown, and the stress caused by writing or art projects about the books they read inspired me to write this poem:
BOOK REPORTSDo we really want children to associate a book with an assignment? Anything you can do to keep the joy of reading alive will be the greatest gift you can give your students.
Whenever I read a book,
my teacher makes me
write a report.
“At least ten sentences,”
she says. “Neatly!
So now I think
I know reading and reports
go together like roller and coaster,
Mom and Dad,
and Santa and Claus.
Can you share a funny (or interesting) story related to your career as a Teaching Author?
I love doing school visits because the children are enthusiastic and honest, so honest in fact that one day after I’d given my spiel about writing using my quilt [You can see the quilt and download the explanations of each square here .] a sweet-looking fifth grader raised her hand and asked “Do you have to be old to be a writer?” This was at least ten years ago. Perhaps today she’d wonder if I’d ever met a dinosaur!
Tell us about your best (or worst) writing teacher.
I was fortunate enough to study with two fabulous teachers without whom I probably would just be publishing my first book. Their names were Sue Alexander and Myra Cohn Livingston. They were both tough and never afraid to tell me my mistakes. I still remember what Sue Alexander wrote about one of my stories, “This doesn’t work and it’s boring too!”
They both expected their students to work and assigned enormous amounts of homework, believing that the best learning comes from doing. But it wasn’t all bad. They encouraged me to persist and when they gave praise, I knew it was honest and heartfelt. When they deemed something worthy of publication, they helped find editors for it. The greatest gift they gave me was the truth about my work, good or horrible, potential or garbage. I only hope everyone can have the same experience with their writing teachers.
Ann, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today. Thank you also for providing our first book giveaway, an autographed copy of your brand new book. Instructions for entering our drawing are provided below. But first, readers may want to watch the trailer for Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication:
Before entering our contest, please read our Giveaway Guidelines post here.
Now, for the contest requirements:
For the next two weeks, the Teaching Authors will discuss the topic of picture book writing. To kick off that discussion, we'd like readers to share their favorite picture book titles. So, if you would like a chance to win an autographed copy of Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, you must post a comment to today's blog post giving us the title and author of one of your favorite picture books, and the reason behind your choice. To qualify, your entry must be posted by 11 pm Friday, July 17, 2009 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be announced by 11 pm, Saturday, July 18, 2009.
We look forward to reading your comments. Good luck, everyone! And don't forget to watch for more book giveaways coming soon, including one when we review Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books.