Friday, July 31, 2009

Open Heart Surgery—Writing a Holiday Story

Happy Poetry Friday!

Today's poem and Writing Workout/Lesson Plan on writing a holiday story are at the bottom of this post.

There’s always so much to do to launch a book. So much more than I’ll ever do. I have a file called “PR opportunities” which exhausts me just to scroll through.

Nap time!Luckily, NEW YEAR AT THE PIER--A Rosh Hashanah Story is powered both by the airy and emotionally true watercolor illustrations by St├ęphane Jorisch, and by its association with a holiday. So though I am doing lots of PR, more people are approaching me for interviews and book signings than with past books.

So today’s advice? Write a holiday book!

Or maybe not. Keep reading.

When my first picture book, TO RABBITTOWN (Scholastic), came out, it was also stunningly illustrated (by Robin Spowart). It came out every Easter, which stuck me as funny, since I’m Jewish. It got a starred review in School Library Journal, went through many editions, became a paperback, stayed in print for eight years and sold over 64,000 copies.

That was pretty cool, but because it was my first book, much of that miracle was lost on me. I didn’t understand the amazing goldness of a starred review in SLJ, didn’t know that a publisher doesn’t normally take out an ad to promote a book, didn’t know that picture books were going out of print within two years.

When my next book, THE NIGHT HORSE (Scholastic) went out of print before anyone knew it was on the shelves, I took notice…to put it mildly.

There were lots of factors, of course. But it was clear to me that a book which had a handle—like a holiday—might have a longer shelf-life. So I asked my local independent children’s bookstore owner what holiday books she wished she had.

Ground Hog’s Day, she said.

With scrunched forehead and clenched jaw, I put on my mining hat, carried my heavy pick, and went to work on a Ground Hog’s Day story. I tried—I really did. But I wasn’t even sure what a ground hog looked like. And I’m a native Southern Californian—I couldn't understand why anyone would care if winter lasted longer. So the story? Flat.

Ten years later, an editor asked me if I had any Jewish stories. I immediately began to describe tashlich, a joyous, communal ritual during the Jewish New Year. I told her about the families gathered on the beach, the moving, melodic songs we sing as we troop up the pier, the goose-bumpy spiritual aura around us as we toss pieces of bread into the ocean, cleaning the slate for the New Year.

I began writing it immediately, heatedly, jumping up and down, singing Avinu Malkenu, dancing around the story, trying to get the right angle. I could write this story because I got chills when I thought about tashlich.

I think it’s called emotional honesty.

So here’s what I’ve learned. Would it be a good idea to write a holiday story? Yes…if you can’t wait to share the way you celebrate it (or avoid it, which might be an interesting spin on a holiday…). If you can barely restrain yourself from running out of the house this very minute and bopping passersby on the head with your story or dressing them up, painting their faces, taking their hands and leading them to the tent where you celebrate your holiday.

Then—congratulations! You’ve found that warm-homemade-bread-pesto-avocado-deliciousness of your story.

Writing Workout/ Lesson Plan (cleverly disguised as a poem): Writing A Holiday Story

WRITING A HOLIDAY STORY
by April Halprin Wayland

Lead us
to your backyard in the dark.
Light those red candles.

Sit us down
in your grandfather’s rattan chair
on the grass.

Bring us
that steaming rice dish.
Put a fork in our hands.

Sing us the song.
Now teach us the words
so we can sing along.

(c) April Halprin Wayland

And please--don't make this writing sandbox of ours into work, as I did for so many years with that mining hat and heavy pick. Write with joy!All images by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“A Successful Picture Book is a Visual Poem”

[Note to teachers: while this post is aimed at adults trying to write commercially publishable picture books, the Writing Workout at the end can also be used with young writers creating their own illustrated stories.]

My childhood was similar to Jeanne Marie's in that no one read picture books to me. But when I started reading them to my son (more years ago than I care to admit), I fell in love with the genre. I was working as a freelance writer at the time, and I began fantasizing about writing stories that would be brilliantly illustrated—by someone else. (I can barely draw stick figures myself. April's sketches make me so jealous!) While I never said, “I can write a picture book on my coffee break,” I did often think: “How hard can it be?” As it turns out, at least for me, it can be VERY hard. But that didn’t keep me from trying.

I enrolled in my first class in writing for children (many years ago) with the sole intent of becoming a picture book author. I wrote several awful picture book manuscripts for that class. The instructor was too kind to tell me just how bad they were, but editors later responded to them with form rejections.

One of the last weeks of class, the instructor gave us an assignment to write in a genre we hadn’t tried yet. So I took a crack at the first chapter of a young-adult novel. I was surprised at how much fun it was. I was soon hooked. Like Mary Ann, I discovered I was really a novelist at heart. But I still dreamed of writing a publishable picture book manuscript one day, and I worked on several while I was at Vermont College. When I submitted those picture book manuscripts to editors, I received some “encouraging” rejection letters, but still no sales.

So I kept reading and studying picture book texts. I finally broke down and tried a technique I’d read about years earlier—I typed out the text of several picture book manuscripts I admired. That experience was truly eye, and ear, opening. (Esther mentions this technique, along with several others, in her article in the Sept/Oct 2008 SCBWI Bulletin.) For some reason, it wasn’t until I typed those texts and saw how they looked on the page, without illustrations, that I began to get a real feel for picture book format, pacing, and rhythm.

Later, I had a real “aha” moment when I read a quote from Caldecott-winning author-illustrator Maurice Sendak, in which he said:
“A successful picture book is a visual poem.”
(According to Janice Harayda at One Minute Book Reviews, the quote is from Sendak’s book, Caledcott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures.)

Sendak may have been speaking about the almost magical interplay between text and images. But his words made me think about how much picture book texts have in common with poetry. For example, in both:
  • Every word must count.
  • Words often work synergistically, so that the effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Both are meant to be read aloud, which makes sound, rhythm, repetition, and wordplay important, even in the absence of rhyme.
  • Both have standardized forms: just as a haiku or sonnet must follow certain rules, picture books have rules too.
Two basic rules predominate in picture books being published today:
  1. The text should not exceed 800 words. (Many publishers prefer texts shorter than 500 words.)
  2. The story must fit into a 32-page format.
But even within a 32-page format, the actual number of pages available for text varies. For a detailed explanation, see the Editorial Anonymous blog. And after reading that post, check out the follow-up comments at Tara Lazar’s blog. Tara even provides diagrams that can help you create a storyboard for your manuscript. Finally, click here for a printable one-page picture book storyboard (for a book with end pages).

[Note: I don’t storyboard my picture books until I’ve gone through several revisions of the basic story. But depending on the type of story you’re writing, you can use a storyboard to help plot out the events in advance. For a discussion of this, click here.]

But to get back to similarities between picture book texts and poems: I found JoAnn’s comments about her love of wordplay interesting. JoAnn talked about how, for her, the rhythm and language come first and how she sometimes has to work at developing the story. For me, on the other hand, the story generally comes first, and I have to work at strengthening the rhythm and language.

I continue to revise my picture book manuscripts to try to make them more poetic. In the process, I think I’m getting closer to a publishable manuscript—I recently had an editor actually ask to see a revision of a story I'd sent her. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it works out. Meanwhile, here’s a Writing Workout to help you turn your manuscript into a “visual poem.”

Writing Workout: Creating a Visual Poem

Take a picture book manuscript you've written and look at your use of poetic devices. See if the addition of some of the following devices might enhance your story. (If you're unsure what these terms mean, check out this poetry glossary.):
  • alliteration (Be careful of alliterative character names, though, as they have become cliche.)
  • assonance
  • consonance
  • onomatopoeia
  • simile
  • metaphor
  • repetition
  • internal rhyme
Read your manuscript aloud. Does it have a strong rhythm? Do you stumble over any of the words? Revise as needed.

If you can, record yourself reading the manuscript and play it back to listen to the rhythm and flow. Or have someone else read the manuscript aloud while you take note of any parts that sound awkward. Keep polishing until your words sing!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Accidental Picture Book Author


I never meant to be a picture book writer. I was a novelist. More specifically, a middle grade novelist. Picture books intimidated me. Pre-schooler intimidated me, even though I was the mother of a three-year -old.
Unlike those who think they can rip off a picture book during their lunch hour, I regarded those who could write picture books with awe. To me, picture books were about as simple as writing haiku...another art form I would not dream of attempting. Why"

Because the novelist is used to big expanses of time and space in which to tell a story. True, middle grade novels aren't the size of War and Peace, but they aren't less than eight hundred words, either. My first drafts of novels run 60-70,000 words. (I might add they are considerably less before they go off to the publisher.)

Not only are picture books short, but the text is only half the story. The text is the sound track for the illustrations, which tell the other half of the story. How on earth did you write a story like that unless you also were the illustrator? (I am not an illustrator.) Most of my picture book author heroes...Kevin Henkes, Peggy Rathman, Amy Schwartz...are illustrator/authors. They know how the characters look. They know how to draw a visual punchline. At the time, I was finding plenty of rejection for my novels. I saw no reason to add picture books to my pile of rejected work.
Then, for no other reason than to cheer up my four-year-old, I wrote My Best Friend
in two hours. I didn't know it was a picture book until I took it to my Vermont College workshop group. The group couldn't decide if it was a short story or a picture book. I had thought it might be an easy reader (which shows you how much I knew). The workshop leader really liked it and told me I ought to send it "somewhere." Seventeen "somewheres" later, it sold to Viking, who told me that it was a picture book. It was from that first editorial letter that I learned how to write a picture book. Writing like a picture book writer means dumping all the tricks that make me an novelist.

Gone was 99% of the description. I learned to tell the story through dialog and single well-chosen action verbs. The illustrator would do the rest. This is why I decided that producing a picture book was a lot like an arranged marriage. You write a text that does not become a book until it is illustrated by someone you never meet or talk to (editors like it that way), who then adds their vision to your text. Somehow, it all turns out well. At least it has for me. My illustrators have found far more in my stories than I ever dreamed was there.

I struggle every day in writing picture books. I have to remind myself to "leave room for the illustrator." To include the elements that give the artist something to work with, while leaving room for the artist's visual story. It is never easy, wihch is why I work on novels and picture books at the same time. When I need to paint my own word pictures in detail, I work on my novels. When I want to feel that I have accomplished something fast, I do a picture book draft. I can do a draft in a day. It takes fifty plus drafts over a period of several years before I even think about sending a picture book to my editors.

Knowing that we would be talking about picture books this time, I have been reading....picture books these past two weeks.
Here's the list: Fiction: Rainy Day by Patricia Lakin, Camping Day by Patricia Lakin, Abigail Spells by Anna Alter, Tiny & Hercules by Amy Schwartz, Silent Music by James Rumford, Nobody Here But Me by Judith Viorist, Yoon and the Jade Bracelet by Helen Recorvits
Poetry: Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, Birds on a Wireby J. Patrick Lewis and Paul B. Janeczko
Non-fiction: A River of Words by Jen Bryant, 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, Keep Your Eye on the Kid by Catherine Brighton.


Writing Workout



Try this exercise when you feel as if your inner novelist is overtaking your outer picture book writer.
1. Take your basic story.
2. Write the story using only nouns and action verbs. (OK, you can use prepostions too)
For instance, The Three Bears might look like this:
Bears exit house. They amble through forest.
Girl sees house. Girl looks in house. House is empty. Girl enters house. Girl sees table....(OK, you get the picture.)
3. Now that you have the skeleton of your story, go back and add in more specific nouns livelier verbs and selected adjective.
4. Avoid adverbs.
5. Add sound effects if you like and they make sense in the narrative. (If you've read Surprise Soupy ou know I love sounds. They're fun to read aloud.)
6. Before you add words to your original word count, ask yourself if the word is absolutely necessary. Would you pay a hundred dollars to put that word in the story? You would? Then it must belong there.

I don't guarantee that this will deliver a publishable manuscript, but doing it over and over helps mold your story into picture book form.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Making What's So Hard about Writing Picture Books Less Hard

Oh, if only Ann Whitford Paul’s hands-on, right-on and thus write-on guide Writing Picture Books had been available when I first began writing.
[Note: the President at that time bore the initials J.C.]

Alas, Writing for Children wasn’t in vogue then.
The singular format (and art form) “picture book” was often labeled “picture storybook.”
The IBM Selectric typewriter reigned supreme, unaware the word processor planned to stage a coup.

I cut my writer’s teeth, I learned my craft, courtesy of:

(1) Lee Wyndham’s Writing for Children and Teen-agers (Writer’s Digest, 1976) and Phyllis Whitney’s Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels (The Writer, Inc., 1976);
(2) my sky blue, kite-embellished 1978 "I"-less Society of Children’s Book Writers membership card;
(3) the bounty of children’s books (published past and present) residing on the shelves of my Wilmette Public Library’s Children’s Bookroom.
I took selected books apart, physically sometimes, from the inside-out.
[See my September/October 2009 SCBWI Bulletin article “The Book That Changed Me.”]
I studied particular and favorite authors’ careers from their first book to their most current.
I read each book first as a reader, then again, as a writer.
I learned the stories behind the stories, taking heart and hope.
Writing for Children classes were few and far between; Children’s Book Writing Groups hard to come by.
Keeping me afloat was SCBW’s Manuscript Exchange which allowed me to learn from fellow Illinois author Berniece Rabe.

Writing a picture book text is Hard Work. Period.
It is not for the weak, in body or spirit.
The writer must dig often and deep through countless drafts to arrive at the bare bones of a story that not only can live and breathe on the page, thanks to the illustrator, but capture and resound in a reader’s heart.
Such efforts demand determination, patience, passion, persistence.
Reading and studying Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books won’t make writing a picture book easy, but it’s certain to make writing a picture book eas-i-e-r.
As will the following resources, thanks to technology and the popularity of Writing for Children, that both fortify and enhance all you learn from Ann Paul’s book.

(1) Mem Fox’s website - http://www.memfox.com/
Mem Fox once wrote, “Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in haiku.”
Like Ann Paul, Mem Fox gets picture books.
Her website offers opportunities to hear and see Mem read, and to learn the stories behind her stories.
Check out her 20 Do’s and 20 Don’ts as well as her “So, you want to write a picture book” listed under the section “For Writers (And Potential Writers).”



2) SCBWI’s Picture Book Master Class with Tomie DePaola
Imagine 90-minutes up close and personal with Caldecott and Newberry Honor Awards medalist Tomie DePaola, illustrator of over 200 books, author of over 100!
This DVD Master Class, produced by SCBWI, features a one-on-one conversation between SCBWI Executive Director and best-selling children’s book author Lin Oliver and Tomie that offers inspiration, information, insights and encouragement for anyone writing the picture book today.
Purchase is available on the SCBWI website.

(3) A YouTube-available video of A School Visit by best-selling Author/Illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
Sit yourself down in the school auditorium, surround yourself with kiddos, and listen and learn how and why Jarrett makes books.
The illustrator piece to picture books is something picture book writers need to know.
And, if you’ve already successfully published a picture book, take a peek at how a fellow author presents. Jarrett’s website – http://www.studiojjk.com – is also worth visiting.

And, look for my TeachingAuthors review of Ann Paul’s Writing Picture Books in early Fall.

Writing Workout:
Write a Name Poem

Mem Fox declares: story begins with a character in trouble!
Editor Melanie Kroupa took that Truth one step further while helping me revise my middle grade novel, The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut (Holiday House).
“Who a character is gets him into trouble,” Melanie taught me. “But who a character is gets him out of trouble.”

Once I defined Howie’s Howie-ness in a name poem, he was ready, willing and able to travel his plotline.
In Chapter One, I let Howie share the poem with his fellow fourth-graders so my readers would know Howie too.
H = hopeful
O = original
W= willing
I = intelligent
E = enthusiastic
Coincidentally (?), junior businessperson Howie Fingergut’s traits are those of any budding entrepreneur.

Define your characters, plural (!) - Hero, Side-kick, Villain, in a name poem, to come to know who and what they are.
Try using adjectives, next verbs, then nouns.
And remember Ann Paul’s tip: characters have flaws!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What’s So Hard (for Me) about Writing Picture Books

I love wordplay. I savor the delicious way words feel in my mouth. The taste of an especially yummy combination—one that tingles with rhythm, rhyme, or alliteration. The way exciting language tickles my ears. I search for tangy, succulent, flavorful words.


Sometimes the sounds of words almost feel more important than their meanings.


Eeek! Halt! Hold everything!

When I get so enamored with sounds, I know I’m sliding off track. Because something else is much more important. Those tantalizing words have to say something. Mean something. The ideas they express have to take precedence over the sounds, no matter how delectable they are.



When I work on a picture book, I write by hand in purple ink on legal pads, over and over and over until I feel each stanza, each line, each word is pulling its weight—fitting into the pattern, portraying an emotion, saying what I want to say. Something grabs me, I play with it, I sink into the words and ideas and sounds and images and write. And write and write and write.

The hardest part for me is recognizing and incorporating something that resembles an actual plot—a story with a beginning, middle, and end—that adds the necessary depth to those strained-to-attain scrumptious sounds.



When I sold my first picture book, Cats on Judy, the editor asked me to add details that implied the passing of time so that the text felt more like a story. The same thing happened with Sing-Along Song. Do you see a pattern here? I didn’t, at least not at first.



Many of my rejection letters say that the text is “slight.” What does that mean? How many rejections have I received over the years for the same reason? I’m afraid to count.

Not too long ago as I worked on a new picture book idea, something clicked—almost audibly—like the flick of a light switch.

Eureka!

Somehow right after I finished the first complete draft, I knew it was weak. It needed something more to propel it beyond a simple counting book with rhythm and rhyme. After all these years (and rejections!), I figured it out for myself. I recognized slightness when I saw it (at least in this one manuscript) and took it back to my desk to tear it apart and start over. Now it’s more than a counting book with rhythm and rhyme; it’s an actual story—with counting elements woven in in alternating stanzas—and I’m also adding nonfiction back matter. I hope it works!

Some writers seem to attain the necessary depth in a picture book manuscript without a conscious thought. Or they know enough not to begin writing unless and until all the elements are in place. Not me. I have to work at it, word by flavorful word. But at last, I understand the meaning of slight—lacking that strength, that depth, that extra layer that makes a manuscript more than just what meets the eye at first glance and makes readers want to read it again and again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Just One More Story"

In second grade, I went to three different schools. (Ah, the joys of being an army brat.) In one of these (which I attended for all of three weeks), a classmate asked me to save her seat. I did my job and efficiently told the girl who appeared at my side, “Sorry, this is Tammy’s seat.” She was like, “I’m Tammy.” Whoops.

By high school, my friends had begun referring to my habitual lapse as “JM’s face recognition problem.” I remember being entirely confused by the movie Dead Poets Society, because I never knew which brown-haired white boy was the one who’d been in the scene prior.

In short, I am emphatically not a visual thinker. Put me in a building, and I could not point to the front. Put me on an unfamiliar road, and I will not know east from west; I will not know the direction from which I just came; I will never be able to get home without divine intervention.

I was a straight-A student but for art and home ec. Geometry was a nightmare. Can I blame all this on the fact that my mother never read me picture books? Surely not. But to this day, I have to remind myself to look at the pictures.

During my stint in the MFA program at Vermont College, I focused almost exclusively on novel-writing. I knew I lacked appropriate appreciation for the picture book form and most especially for small children, having spent little time with them and feeling especially clueless as to how they think.

Now I spend my whole day with small children and still have only the vaguest notion as to what goes on inside their little heads. But I have probably read them thousands of picture books in the last four years.

Lacking any parenting instincts, I have also read dozens of books about child-rearing. Peruse any book about kids’ sleep (the most important thing you can read as a new parent), and you will note the importance placed on a bedtime routine. Being a rather hapless and harried sort, I can’t say we have a great routine in place. The one thing (sadly) we never relied on is the sacrosanct ritual of the bedtime story.

If I ask my daughter to pick something to read before bed, she will deliberately choose the thickest tome – Richard Scarry’s 365 Stories For Bedtime or Charlie Brown’s Super Book of Questions and Answers. If I suggest something short and sweet (i.e., Ruth Krause’s The Carrot Seed), she will protest. The point of the story in her mind is not to ease into a state of happy slumber; rather, it is to stall.

The other day, we compromised on a medium-length book that I had purchased for my own enjoyment – Madeleine L’Engle’s The Other Dog. As I started to read aloud, I realized that not only would my daughter not find it funny – she wouldn’t “get it” at all. She did maintain cursory interest throughout and asked appropriate questions. But when we were finished, she did not request another story and went to bed without a single protest.

A few days later, she said, “You know that book about the dog with the pointy nose? I don’t like that book. Could you take it out of my bookshelf? Could you take it downstairs?” And finally, “Could you hide it?”

I used to think those “rules” about writing brief picture books were ridiculously stringent. Now I wish they were more stringent. My son, at age two, lacks the attention span to sit through more than 50 words. Meanwhile, so much of what we read is just plain BAD. All those books with flaps and pop-ups and scary rhymes that well-meaning adults seem always to pick up in thrift stores for 99 cents – how do these get published? And why do my children like them? My daughter had been repeatedly asking for The Scary Sounds of Halloween throughout the month of June.

Of course, interactive books and novelty books are popular with kids for a reason. And I must say, Pat the Bunny is just genius.

At any rate, yes, I can write an entire episode of Days of Our Lives in a day or two (6,000 words), and of course I can write a picture book on my coffee break. My latest is only 45 words long. Of course, even 36 revisions later, it is not ready for prime time. And even if it were – finding a home for it in this “soft” market, finding an illustrator to work his/her magic and turn my manuscript into an actual book would take years.

As a TV writer who leaves all the visuals to someone else (actors, directors, set designers), there is a certain wondrous thing about having an illustrator flesh out that which is not in my own mind. I hope it shall happen someday.

In the meantime, I am in Vermont this week at an alumni mini-reunion in hopes of recapturing the inspiration that I found here. I especially appreciated hearing a quote from the great Phyllis Root, who once advised in a lecture that a picture book should be about “one true thing.” So very, very true.




My little inspirations
Montpelier, VT
A Ford family fave

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Our First Book Giveaway Winner!



We have a winner!

But before I announce the winner's name, I want to thank everyone who posted in response to our first Guest Teaching Author interview. We loved the variety of picture books you all shared, and we enjoyed your wonderful comments!

I also want to again thank Ann Whitford Paul for her terrific interview. And I need to apologize to Ann--I neglected to include a link to her website when I posted the interview. So if you'd like to read more about Ann and her books, please visit her website. (Hope that makes up for my mistake, Ann!)

I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Our randomly-selected winner of an autographed copy of Writing Picture Books is Diana at the Mysterious Title X blog. Congratulations, Diana! But don't forget--you need to reply to our email within 72 hours, as specified in our Giveaway Guidelines. If for some reason Diana doesn't get in touch with us in time, we will choose an alternate winner.

For those of you who didn't win a copy of Writing Picture Books, watch this space for an upcoming review of the book by one of our Teaching Authors, and for a second chance to win one of Ann's books. And stay tuned--we're planning more book giveaways in late August and early September!

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

I WRITE
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:

POEM

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Ann Whitford Paul!

We have two firsts today--our first Guest Teaching Author interview, and our first Book Giveaway!

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 REPORTS

Whenever I read a book,

my teacher makes me
write a report.
“At least ten sentences,”

she says. “Neatly!
No Erasures!”

So now I think

I know reading and reports
go together like roller and coaster,
Mom and Dad,
and Santa and Claus.
Do 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.

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:



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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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Giveaway Guidelines


Planning to enter one of our giveaway contests? Please be sure to read the information below.


Entry Rules:
  1. To enter a giveaway drawing, you must post a comment to the specified blog post. UPDATE AS OF 10/1/09: The comment function has been turned off for this post to prevent readers from leaving comments here by mistake.
  2. Your comment must fulfill the requirements of that particular contest to be valid.
  3. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger or your email is not part of your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Note: the Teaching Authors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments.
  4. Your contest entry grants us permission to list your name as a winner on the website www.TeachingAuthors.com.
Winner selection and notification:
  1. Unless otherwise indicated, winners are determined using the random number generator at Random.org.
  2. Winners will be announced on the website by the date indicated in each contest. Winners will also be notified by email. Winners must respond to their notification email and provide a mailing address within 72 hours. If you do not respond in time, your prize is forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.
Restrictions:
Giveaways are only open to U.S. addresses.

Note: the Teaching Authors cannot be held accountable for any email that is lost in Cyberspace, or for any email sent to you that ends up in your Spam folder.

Good luck!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Adventures in Techland



I am writing this from beautiful Ocean Isle, North Carolina, but I don't think that was what we had in mind when we set up the "out-and-about" category of blogs. But since I haven't been to any writing-related events lately, I will tell you about two "techie" related projects I am currently working on. Or maybe struggling with would be a better way of describing it. Anything that involves the Cyberworld takes me a long time to master.

The first of these is the "virtual school visit." Two of my publishers have offered their writers this option, which involves the writer using Skype to come into a distant classroom, via webcam. In fact, one of my publishers asked us to make a three to five minute "auditioncast" to take to ALA as an example of our work. It took me a week to discover that the webcam on my computer required a program that was not on my computer. Go figure. But having solved that little glitch, I am really excited about the idea of using Skype to do school visits. (Mary Ann Rodman, coming to you via Skype...just like on the Oprah Show!). With school and library budgets shrinking by the day, an author visit that does not require paying for the author's transportation, housing, etc, would make a cybervisit much more affordable, providing the school has the technology. It is also a great deal for those of us who love doing school visits, but don't always have the time in their schedule to fly three time zones away for a week at a time.

My second venture in Techland has to do with the UK release of my middle grade historical fiction, JIMMY'S STARS. (That's the UK cover at the top of the post; the American Farrar Straux Giroux cover under it. Interesting change in cover art, no?) This book was based on my mother's family and their experiences during World War II. My UK publisher, Usborne, asked for any pictures, letters, documents that I have of Mom's family that would reflect the events in the book. They were especially interested in the shipboard diary my Uncle Jim (the inspiration for the fictional Jimmy) kept as a seventeen-year-old Merchant Marine. Usborne is posting all this, along with my explanations as to how these things fit into my story, on a special section on the Usborne site as a resource for teachers. I am so excited to be sharing some of my material with a delightful woman named Sally, who is as interested in the intersection of history and fiction as I am!

My only problem has been in discovering that 1)somehow the power cord to my scanner has disappeared into the black hole that is my office 2) discovering that my Local Chain of Office Service Provider has horrible scanners 3) my Local Chain of Office Supplies no longer sells flat bed scanners. When I asked where the scanners were, the adolescent sales "associate" looked at me as if I had asked for a rotary dial phone or typewriter. Instead, he waved his hand at a display of "multipurpose" machines, each the size of VW Bug. When I told him I didn't need a fax-printer-scanner-copier-photomaker-that-plays-The Star Spangled Banner (OK, I made up that last part), he just shrugged and said, "I think you can get those old-fashioned ones online."

So I ordered one online, and had it in my hot little hands two days later. I am now gleefully scanning away, and firing off my family treasures to Usborne. When they have the site set up, I will let you all know.

But for now, the beach and a book are calling my name. And speaking of books, I have read been reading like crazy these past two weeks. Here's the list: Barnyard Slam, by Dian Curtis Regan, Up North at the Cabin by Marcia Chall, Prairie Train by Marcia Chall (Picture books)
The Locked Garden
by Gloria Whelan, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, When the Whistle Blows (MG Historical Fiction)
Love, Aubreyby Suzanne LaFleur (MG fiction)
Also Known as Harper by Ann Heywood Leal, The Morgue and Meby John C. Ford (YA Fiction)
Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin, Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (Adult fiction!!!)
Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters (Adult Non-fiction)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

One Big Rock

A speaker at a time-management seminar poured stones into a large glass jar. He asked the audience to tell him when the jar was full. When the stones reached the lip of the jar, the audience spoke up.


Next, he poured pebbles in; they fell between the stones. Again the audience told him when they thought the jar was full. Then he filled the gaps with sand and finally water, demonstrating that we can keep fitting smaller and smaller tasks into what seems to be a limited amount of time.

Have you heard this before? Just a sec. After the jar really was full—of stones, pebbles, sand, and water—the speaker showed the audience one big rock. He asked, What if this is the most important thing you have to do with your time? How can you fit it in?


Obviously, you have to put it in first.

You have to put it in first. I’ve been carrying that jar around in my head lately, trying to imagine which tasks in my work life are stones (income-producing work: teaching, school visits, freelance assignments), pebbles (projects I hope will pay off in the long run: manuscript submissions, marketing, networking opportunities), sand (necessary but unpaid work: housework, financial matters, miscellaneous family obligations), and water (everything else: e-mail, web surfing, reading). I know what my one big rock is: writing. Yet too often I fritter a whole day away without writing a single creative word.

I need to act as though my writing comes first and everything else fills in the gaps.

My teaching schedule changes every semester; this summer, I’m teaching two six-week college courses, and they require a certain amount of preparation time. I try to take a decent walk every day, usually with the dog and preferably to the lake. Everything else is up in the air. My husband and our sons are all pretty independent; their needs for my time vary. I can’t count on a regular daily wake-up time, especially during the summer. But almost every morning when I get up, I grab a cup of coffee and spend some time working in my pajamas.

My challenge is to make that time—whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours—as productive as possible. I have to put my writing first. Before e-mail, which can sidetrack me worse than any other distraction. Before Facebook, enjoyable as it is to see what everyone else is up to. Before I even push the button to turn the monitor on. I can fly off in a dozen different directions before I put one word on the page if I look at the computer first—even worse, I might avoid my own writing for the entire day. I have to head straight for the notebook or the novel. This month, I’ve promised myself I’ll spend one hour a day working on the YA novel I started last November for NaNoWriMo. I've missed a couple days, but I'm still trying.

What is your one big rock? How can you fit it into your jar?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"A Few Friendly Take-Aways When Life Intervenes"

I offer a resounding Ibid!, not to mention a Thumbs Up, to the solutions and suggestions my fellow, oh-so-wise TeachingAuthors shared concerning Time Management these past two weeks. They answered Pam T.’s question, and then some.

Prioritize. Of course.
Focus. Absolutely.
Remove all distractions. That goes without saying.
I would also add, though: determine and honor your Modus Operandi.
Are you a morning writer, like I am, pouring out your words before the coffee’s finished brewing?
Or does your Muse prefer the evening, when everyone’s asleep?
Perhaps you use whatever Life gives you - i.e. your children’s school schedule or a non-working holiday?
Respecting your M.O., while parceling your day’s task into measured, doable pieces, maximizes your chance of doing your best work.

BUT, and this is an important BUT, almost as important as Jane Yolen’s Butt In Chair Rule: what’s a writer to do when he or she CAN’T do the above?
Say, when she’s asked to replace her son’s Room Mother on that day-away trip to that downstate dairy farm.
Or, when her basement floods from that once-in-a-century microburst.

(Lots of) experience has taught me well.

(1) I absolve myself – quickly - of any and all guilt.
Life happens, yes? And I’ll write about it someday!
Katherine Paterson wrote in Beyond the Gates of Excellence: “… the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.”


I throw Life’s Interruptions into My Writer’s Compost Heap, to steep and ferment for later use.
In (lots of) time, I’ll likely have a telling detail, a surprising plot point, a successful way into a character’s heartbreak.

(2) I take my work with me, metaphorically.
I select one particular measured writing task to backburner while I’m out and about.
Maybe the beginning, middle and end of a crucial scene that reveals my character’s emotional plotline.
Or a picture book’s refrain and how I might riff on it.
The names of people, places and things.
A character’s voice.
The focus of a blog post.
My brain continues to rise to the occasion which is why I always have a pen and notebook handy.

I place my senses on alert and use the situation.
For instance, riding my #151 CTA bus down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, iPod-adorned though not tuned on or in, I listen to conversations, noting vocal rhythms and word choice, delivery and tone. I often imagine the faces of those speaking behind me.Visiting a school, I read the names on the lockers, view the artwork and assignments, check hair adornments and tee-shirt designs.
Relating such observations to my current project enriches my writing once I return to my desk.

I connect to my writing by listening to a song that sounds like the book I’m writing. Klezmer music accompanied me every where I went while I wrote my picture book Chicken Soup by Heart. One song in particular, the Eastern European riddle song "Tumbalalaika," captured my story’s essence. Indeed, its back-and-forth rhythms created my book’s shape.

I listened to Celine Dione’s “If That’s What It Takes” non-stop while writing my picture book Fancy That.
I wrote my middle grade novel The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut singing along to Patti Page’s "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.”

A variation of the above is to create your character’s Play List, then listen to those songs wherever you go, or while engaged otherwise.
Trust me, trust me: this really works.

(3) Finally, I defer to Scarlett O’Hara’s wisdom:

“Tomorrow is another day.”

Once the sun rises, there I am again, pouring out my pages before my coffee’s finished brewing.


Writing Workout

It’s so very easy to beat ourselves up, to render our writer’s selves black and blue, simply by noting what we DIDN’T do, what we DIDN’T accomplish, what we DIDN’T realize.
Well, enough of that!

Affirm your Writer’s Self in your Writer’s Notebook, or in a file so named on your trusty computer.

(1) Note the day/date.
(2) List your Writer-related and/or Project-related Accomplishments, including, as I do, given the day:
  • talking a project out loud
  • brainstorming
  • researching a story and/or project
  • reading a children’s book (or two) that shares my book’s format
  • reading a children’s book (or two) that shares my book’s subject matter
  • visiting the library to check out the newest titles
  • listening to an author at a local bookstore
  • reading an editor’s or agent’s or writer’s relevant blog
  • listening to a relevant podcast
  • attending a conference – writing or otherwise
  • reading reviews (online or from hard copy)
  • meeting with my Writing Group
  • meeting with my local SCBWI Network
  • growing my list of Children’s Book World folks ripe to receive my newest book
  • creating a bibliography to accompany my newest book
  • preparing my author bio for a press release
  • updating my website
  • checking out a local author’s school visit
  • viewing an illustrator's exhibit
  • writing my blog’s weekly entry
Then (3) celebrate, (with chocolate preferably), the Writer’s Life we were lucky enough to live that day!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Time = Money; Writing Time = Priceless

Were I well qualified to post on the topic of time management, I would not be composing this post on the fly, the morning it’s “due.”

In school, I was never one of those write-my-term-paper-at-the-last-minute types of students. My first drafts always suck, and I know I need to budget most of my “writing time” for revising.

In fact, I started this post in the quiet hours of Sunday night -- the kids finally in bed, my workout complete, a sweet glass of red wine in hand. Of course the wine was my undoing, as I wrote a half a page (all now consigned to the recycling bin), then realized I was too tired and would have to start fresh in the morning.

At the moment my husband and I retired for the night, my two-year-old (who has either supersonic hearing or ESP) decided it was time to get up. Thus followed many hours of futile attempts to persuade him that it was, in fact, night.

Now bleary-eyed and far more tired than I was last night (but at least with tall mug of coffee in hand), here I sit. For each sentence that I have typed (and just as many that I have erased), my “writing time” has been punctuated by requests for two cups of milk, two fruit snacks, one spilled bowl of cereal, one diaper change, one request for “help wiping,” two outfit changes, six demands to “look at this,” four requests to “help me with my puzzle,” one desperate shout of “He’s biting me!,” one prolonged meltdown over hair-brushing, two kisses, three hugs, and one phone call.

One of the first pieces of advice most professional children’s book writers will give is, “Don’t quit your day job.” Excellent advice, indeed. For Mind Games, I earned an advance of $6000 – roughly the equivalent of $.02/hour. I freelance for some local quarterly publications, typically netting about $50 per article. Teaching at a community college earned me $2000 for one semester. And of course, my other day job, mommyhood, is paid in a wage of kisses -- and I just collected two more as I typed this paragraph.

My full-time day job, soap opera writing, is a blessing. I work from home; it pays well; and, most important, I love it! It also affords much practice at writing very, very quickly. Right now, I am a breakdown writer, which means that I spend three days per week on conference calls. Typically we have 24 hours to write one show; in some weeks, we have 48 hours to write two.

At the beginning of the year, my then-three-year-old was in half-day preschool, and my toddler was home with me. One fall day when I was on a conference call and my daughter should have been napping but of course was not, I removed to another room and desperately ordered the children to play nicely and be quiet. Suddenly, I heard shrieking emanating from the next room and ran in to find my daughter pulling an ipod cord tight around my son’s neck. “I’m wrapping him up as a present for Daddy,” she said sweetly. She now goes to preschool all day, for which I feel no guilt on most days because she loves it, and this is clearly the arrangement that works best for all of us.

Life is easier, but it is still crazy. Many days my husband comes home from a long day of wrangling middle school children to watch our two little ones so I can get work done. My own writing projects have suffered much in recent years, but, now that both kids are sleeping through the night (most nights), I am finally, joyfully writing again.

Because soap opera writing is a precarious business with little job security, I am always considering my prospects for a second career. My husband knows I am a little crazy about applying for jobs (part-time editor here, tutor there) and overextending myself. If I just focused on my writing and trusted, how much easier would our lives be?

It is hard to ask for time to write something on spec that may never sell. In the time-versus-money calculus that we are always weighing, difficult choices must be made. Hire a nanny and let someone else care for my kid? Keep our biweekly housecleaner and have more writing time, or clean toilets myself? Get sleep?

There are huge, tangible financial rewards to having a “regular job” – and I am not frugal and not a budgeter, so these are important. But I recently interviewed a job coach who reminded me that work is also an important avenue through which many people socialize, identify themselves, and maintain their sense of dignity. The honest truth is, it is hard to trust that I can make a “career” of writing books when I have always had a job job.

I wrote a piece a few months ago about a local bookstore that is owned by the husband of romance novelist Nora Roberts. The New Yorker did a recent (excellent) profile on Roberts, in which I read with much interest that when Roberts was a single mother to two young boys and writing prolifically (how??), she laid down the law that she must only be interrupted in the event of arterial blood or live fire.

If my husband hadn’t told my daughter that my job was to write “silly stories,” maybe this tactic would work for me someday? But, knowing my daughter, probably not.

My time management advice? Do as I say, not as I do. Make time. Read. Write. Live. Trust. Enjoy!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ha Ha Ha! Who Said I Could Give Time Management Tips?!?!


Happy Poetry Friday!


There will be a short quiz...and a poem at the end for dessert.


For many years I went to meetings that helped me figure out how an artist goes about being an artist. Even though I had never been published, I told them that I was a children’s book writer. They believed me. Their belief in me helped me believe it. (For a while I wore a pinafore to those meetings. It made me look a little like Alice in Wonderland. I figured that’s what a children’s book author would wear.)

One of the most valuable moments of my writing career happened during a meeting. There were six of us that night: a sculptor, a screen writer, a painter, a violinist, an interior decorator, a muralist and me.

I said, “Everything in my life has a voice— work, family, volunteer activities, doctor appointments, pets. But my writing is mute. It doesn’t have anyone to lobby for it.”


The next day, the violinist telephoned. “I really need your help,” she said, sounding desperate. “Can you give me an hour?”

I groaned silently…but because she was a good friend, I began mentally re-arranging my day to fit her in. “Yes, of course I can,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Because this is your writing speaking.” Then she hung up.


That phone call was a gift. It made me see how quickly I relinquish my own plans, and that I had no priorities—everything that came my way was of equal weight.

It took me years to figure out what's really important to me--where I want to spend my energy. So, today, what are my priorities? Health. Family. Writing. Everything else has to wait in line behind these. Do I honor them perfectly? Well...let's just say I like the motto "progress, not perfection."


And what about email? Eeek!

Remember when emails were amazing cotton candy cloud messages floating in the window? Now they seem like a never-ending pile of gooey noodles. What’s a writer to do?

I tried keeping track of how many in what category came in every week—but I kept stopping to read them or wander downstairs to get another diet soda (without aspartame)…


So for now, I remind myself that I never crossed my heart and promised I’d respond to every email. What's their priority it isn’t always mine, so…I delete.


But do you want to know the single action that helps me focus, laser-like on my writing? It's packing up my laptop and writing in a coffee house. It's funny--when I'm at home, I have to have complete silence in order to write, but in a coffee house, no matter what music is playing or what they’re talking about at the next table, I order herbal tea, put my head down, and write like a demon.

So...if you're trying to figure how how to make time to write, think about the following:
~ What are your top three priorities?
~ Do you act as if you once promised a fairy godmother that you'd respond to every single solitary email?
~ Leave the house.

And now for the quiz (answers below):
1) Do you need to dress like Alice In Wonderland in order to write for children?
2) If the phone rings, should you answer it?
3) Emails has six letters. What's another, related six-letter word?
4) When writing in a coffee house, what’s the most important thing to remember?


Answers:
1) During the four-year apprenticeship, yes. After that it’s optional. (Extra points for men.)
2) Yes—it could be your writing calling.
3) Delete.
4) Order herbal tea.


Speaking of tea, here’s today’s poem:


POEM ME
by April Halprin Wayland


Poem me, please!

Write me small things
to perch on this page:
cluster of birds
chirping hearts heard
wild feathered words.


Write me small things
to flavor this page:
thought squares you’ve found,
words tightly wound,
tea bags of sound.


Poem me, please!


© April Halprin Wayland

(It struck me funny to write a blog post about time management when I balked for so long about writing a blog because I had too much to do already. But to my amazement, this blog has fired me up because we have deadlines! And it's inspired poems! What a gift! Who would’ve guessed?)

images in this post:

http://www.funfolly.com/g/cc/jali2ccd.jpg

http://images-cdn01.associatedcontent.com/image/A1719/171936/300_171936.jpg

http://i290.photobucket.com/albums/ll264/wanderluck/Teacup003-1.jpg

leaping dancer by April Halprin Wayland