Friday, February 11, 2011

Writing Picture Books...and Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy!  In today's post you'll find:

  • How I approach picture books (very carefully...holding a piece of raw steak?);
  • A poem about riding the metro to the downtown Los Angeles library;
  • A Writing Workout perfect for elementary schoolers, offering a quick and easy way to gather ideas;
  • A campaign to encourage teachers to read aloud (send in your memories of how listening to stories changed your life!)
Let's begin, shall we?
In honor of February's Picture Book Marathon (which authors Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler invented in 2008), we at TeachingAuthors are discussing how we each approach writing picture books. how do I write picture books?  The same way I write poems 
(inspired by last year's Poem-A-Day Challenge, I write a poem a day--so far about 316 poems). Here's how I write most of my poems and picture books:

  1. I choose a topic.  Sometimes I choose an idea I've saved in my "Hot Idea File."  It may be inspired by real life experience (New Year at the Pier), it may be triggered by an overheard phrase ("It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma!"), it may be written for a class assignment (The Night Horse)--which is why I continue to take classes.  Often I have no idea where the idea comes from...I just have to be there, waiting at my desk, when the idea flutters down.
  2. Then there's what my mentor Myra Cohn Livingston called the "raw spillage of emotions."  Once I have the topic, no matter how vague, I blurt out everything I can think about related to that idea.  No judgement, no small-gray-fuzzy-frowny-agitated-irritating critic is allowed to scuttle in, stomping on my still-wet clay.
  3. Next, I pull the story through draft after draft after draft after draft.  As Ann Whitford Paul advocates, I read each draft--be it a poem or a picture myself, to my dog, to my cup of decaf.  I take it to my critique group.  Sometimes I sailmail it to my friend Bruce, who lives on a boat (right now he's off the coast of New Zealand).  And, like Mary Ann Rodman, I take the word count personally.  Some days I consider it a triumph if I've chopped 100 words from my manuscript.  Less is, indeed, more.  And I, too, often put away a manuscript for a week, a month, six months or a year.
  4. Here's the REAL secret to writing picture books: are you ready?  There is no secret.  But then, you knew that, didn't you?  As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  Ditto for picture books.   But hey, here's one thing we DO know: today is Poetry Friday!
by April Halprin Wayland

My library card and metro ticket
are in my jacket pocket.
I run in, spot an empty seat, pop onto it.

A man, belly as big as an empty lot,
sings to his little baby in another language.
What's their story?

A girl with jangling, dangling earrings
hugs a guitar.
What's her story?

A woman in worn work clothes
holds red roses.
What's her story?

I leap off, run two blocks to the library.
Books, books, books--look at all these books!
What's their story?

I like this one,
this big blue one,
the one with the Great Dane on the cover.

I slide my card out of my pocket
'cause I'm dying to know...
what's this big dog's story?
(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland

WRITING WORKOUT--Making Your Hot Idea File
That's where I catch ideas before they get away.  Yes, I have a journal by my bed to jot down dreams before they dissipate.  And yes, I have an Idea File on my computer.  My Hot Idea File?  It's where I stash loose, 3-D ideas.
A colored file folder and colored markers (and glitter and stickers and more if you really want to get fancy.)

This is so simple it's embarrassing to write out these instructions...but here they are anyway:

  1. Write "Hot Ideas File" or your own title.
  2. Decorate the file to celebrate what's inside.
  3. Fill with hot ideas. 
Here are some examples of what you might find in my Hot Ideas File:
  • a picture ripped from a magazine--he looks like the big brother in a book I want to write
  • a jotted down overheard phrase--a story starter or book title?
  • dog names or race horse names--character names
  • newspaper articles--most have a hook and a beginning, middle and end...story ideas, all!
  • amazingly clever things my son has said
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
Collect ten ideas a week for five weeks.  After five weeks, pick one to develop.

Blogosphere Buzz

Author and poet Rick Walton has set up a blog called Why Read Aloud? to collect anecdotes about the impact of reading aloud.  
Rick writes: "Did your teacher read aloud to you? Are you a teacher who reads aloud to your students? Tell your stories here...we will figure out a way to get your stories to the administrators and teachers who need to hear them. Your story...might motivate a teacher to read to her kids and make their lives better."

So go out there and write.  Take a deep breath and remember to write with joy.  Some day, somewhere someone may read your words aloud...and make a child's life better.

poem, photo and drawing (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

I have an idea file, too, April. But I never thought to decorate mine. :-)

Robyn Hood Black said...

Thanks, April, for sharing a bit of "your story"! And glitter makes everything more fun.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks for stopping in, Robyn!

Carlie said...

What a chock-full post! So much here that I am not sure I will be able to remember all my comments.

I loved the information about how you write. I do something similar but I think I'll try out pieces of your routine and see how they fit! I am so new that it is great to have a little golden wisdom to try out now and then.

That reading aloud link is so heartwarming. What a wonderful thing for a mommy to read.

I liked the poem you chose too. I so often look at people and wonder their stories. And I try to remind myself when I get frustrated with people in traffic that I don't know what story is playing out in their car that made them drive the way they are. Perhaps they are on the phone with their dad who just announced he has cancer, maybe they have something in their eye, maybe their toddler's sippy cup just fell down by the gas pedal...etc. Good to remember that the world is a maze of plot-lines.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Carlie,
I hadn't realized that my poem encourages us to look for stories to TELL...I was focused on stories to READ--thanks for giving me a new way to see this poem!

I try to do that, too--think about what is happening in a person's life that could make him want to be rude, etc.

I snapped at someone who cut in front of me in the security line at the airport this weekend. He apologized, so did I, and we began talking. Turns out that he was from Egypt--SO MUCH going on in his life--wow. We grabbed coffee and talked until my flight left.

You never know...

Thanks for your comments!