Friday, July 17, 2009

“Heck! I can write a picture book on my coffee break!”

Happy Poetry Friday!

Today’s poem and a lesson plan on writing an envelope poem are at the bottom of this post.
Don’t you hate it when somebody says that?

I wrote thirty-six drafts of my newest picture book, NEW YEAR AT THE PIER—A Rosh Hashanah Story, before my editor said, “Yes! That’s it!”

Thirty-six drafts. Oy. I’ll tell you about it sometime…

So why do I keep writing picture books if I can't pop out one after the other, easy as pie?

Because I'm addicted.

I’m home now from the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) Convention and the American Library Association (ALA) Conference—both in Chicago.

On the three hour flight back, I had intended to work on the manuscripts I’m critiquing for the upcoming Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference. I was looking forward to three uninterrupted hours to work.

But on the last day of ALA, someone said something that triggered a story idea. And that idea kept bopping around inside my brain, begging to be written.

So, I let the story kidnap me. I put my pen to the paper and said, “Take me wherever you want to go.” It was like playing in a sandbox again. Like the old days, before writing became work.

I’ve been playing with it today, too, instead of sorting through conference papers and business cards, instead of putting away laundry, instead of writing this blog.

When I look at this newborn story objectively, it probably won’t sell. I mean, it doesn’t have a particular hook—it’s not a holiday book nor does it address a specific issue or problem.

But I'm taking it to my critique group because I'm hooked on this story. Addicted. I feel as if I’ve had ten cups of coffee today. (And for someone who gets high on ½ cup of decaf, that’s saying something…)

Research suggests addictive chemicals are released in the brains of artists and writers when they are practicing their art. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know that.

When I write, it feels... ...sooooooooooooo good.

So, if you know someone who thinks he can write a picture book during his coffee break, give him a kind smile and wish him good luck.

Then come meet me at the coffee shop and write the story that’s bopping around in your brain, begging to be written.

WRITING WORKOUT: Writing An Envelope Poem

by April Halprin Wayland

I write.

Some folks sing songs, some right the wrongs,
some work crosswords, some raise rare birds
some get in fights or march for peace,
(I do that too, may all wars cease.)
What keeps you jazzed ‘til late at night?

I write.

© April Halprin Wayland

The poem above is an envelope poem.

One of my favorite envelope poems is by Langston Hughes:


I loved my friend
He went away from me
There's nothing more to say
The poem ends,
Soft as it began-
I loved my friend.

Now that you’ve read this, what do you think an envelope poem is?

You’re right—an envelope poem is one that begins and ends with the same line.

How to write your own envelope poem.

1) Brainstorm what you’d like to write about.
2) Now start writing—mediocre ideas or good ideas, it doesn’t matter—just keep your pen moving.
3) Play with lines until you find one that is strong enough to begin and end your poem.
4) Polish your poem. Read it aloud to your cat.
5) Let it rest for a few days. Read it again. Polish it some more.
6) Do you love it? Then let your poem out of its envelope! Share it with a friend.
All images by April Halprin Wayland


Corey Schwartz said...

Fabulous post, April!

Kimberly Bishop said...

Oh, dear. You did it again. You made me smile! :) Counting the days 'til your visit to RB Library. xx

Tara said...

Wonderful! I love that you let your story kidnap you. Awesome!

Barbara Bietz said...


Great inspiration with a side dish of reality. Love it.

Gotta go write my envelope poem...

Barbara B

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for a new "form" to try with my fourth grade writers!

Stephenie said...

Great post! Loved the title, so I HAD to read it.

I get that writer's high, too. It is a fabulous feeling. I guess it's like a runner's high, but my body is designed more for writing than running, so I'll probably never know.

Thanks for the fun, supportive, inspiring post.