Friday, May 19, 2023

Prompting Possible Imaginations

I happen to agree with Esther when it comes to writing prompts. I’m not a great devotee of prompts.  

We’ve all heard those success stories of debut authors. (I hesitate to use the qualifier “overnight’, as it tends to negate the work that went into the writing.) J.K. Rowling. Veronica Roth. S.E. Hinton. Christopher Paolini self-published his first book, Eragon. He sold thousands of copies, when Random House took notice and bought the rights, and the rest is dragon history.  Emma Cline, who wrote The Girls, was offered a three-book contract with a reported $2 million deal.  

The real success stories – and the real champions -- are not the lucky debuts but we the sloggers, the majority of us who get up every morning and do what we do. We don’t define ourselves by rejections, nor by successes. We write. And if we’re lucky, we have a friend or two who send reminders, wrapped in chocolate, with a note: Yes, rejection sucks. Eat chocolate. Now get back to work.

But getting back to work is not always as easy as it sounds. I’ve written about my own trials in finding an agent many times, including here.  This week, news broke out about events surrounding New Leaf Agency (See Publisher’s Weekly article here), bringing into stark relief how excruciating the business of writing can be. Despite having seven books, a few award-winners and several short stories published in major venues, I've faced my own challenges to find an agent. And this in stressor certainly impacted my writing process. I mean, what’s the point?

After parting ways with my third agent, I stopped submitting to focus more on the story engineering process, taking classes from some of the best people in the business. (I highly recommend classes from the indomitable Emma D. Dryden, from the master editors of Eileen Robinson and Harold Underdown at Kid's Book Revisions, from Lorin Oberweger's Free Expressions.) Taking classes from such great teachers kept me in the flow.

 In 2023, one editor finally made an offer (shhhh, it’s not official yet. But watch this space! Unless, of course, change happens.).  Another editor invited me to create a proposal for a multi-book project. Who-op! The proposal was accepted and made its way up the chain. With these several manuscripts in hand, I was able to connect with my current agent.  

Still, we remember that things can change on a dime. That’s what it means to have a career in writing: the business of publishing is always in a state of flux. And so it happened again, the proposed series was rejected. Historical fiction is a hard sell.  What's next? Well, my agent and I are working on it.

If there’s a prompt to be had, perhaps the only one that matters is: 

Write what you love. Write your passion. 

 I write historical fiction. As Liz Trenow states (Writer’s Digest, April 2023): “When I discovered historical fiction, I loved the way it opened up worlds I knew little about, led me into researching eras of history, even took me traveling to find out more.” 

For me, history is my inspiration.  I grew up reading historical adventures and watching Doctor Who (a show that bent history into a wibbly wobbly adventure, to be sure!) Of course, it was the boys who were having all the fun. I wanted to know about those other stories, plain and ordinary girls like me. 

I also love to research. I enjoy reading diaries of those who experienced the events. When writing Girls of Gettysburg (2014), I walked the battlefield four times, watching re-enactors create this moment in history taht took place one hundred fifty-one years ago. I stood in the very place where twelve thousand Confederate forces gathered along Seminary Ridge. Almost a mile away, at the end of an open field, a copse of trees marked the Union line standing firm on Cemetery Ridge. When the signal was given, the men marched across the field. The line had advanced less than two hundred yards when the federals sent shell after shell howling into their midst. Boom! Men fell legless, headless, armless, black with burns and red with blood. Still they marched on across that field. And in the middle of this gruesome battle, the bloodiest of the Civil War, were my girls of Gettysburg

My characters also broke the rules and norms of their period as they struggled to take control of their destiny, although I was careful to provide context.  This focus reaffirmed the theme that underscores all my writing: Doing right wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it could be dangerous, but it could also change the world. And, in reading my stories, young readers are empowered (hopefully) to do the same.

For me, historical fiction tells the story of a living past, illustrating the continuity of life. Humans by their very nature are difficult, complicated, short-sighted, and at times, tragic. And yet, there is hope, grounded in human experience and perspective, all of which has been the driving force of my storytelling.

As my protagonist in Big River’s Daughter (2013) said, “This here story is all true, as near as I can recollect. It ain’t a prettified story. Life as a river rat is stomping hard, and don’t I know it. It’s life wild and woolly, a real rough and tumble. But like Da said, life on the river is full of possible imaginations. And we river rats, we aim to see it through in our own way. That’s the honest truth of it.”  And therein is the hope of River’s journey: if one perseveres,  life can be full of possible imaginations.

So, the question -- or the prompt -- becomes: Why do you like to write, and what do you love about your writing? 

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, May 5, 2023

PROMPT: The Verb!

I sadly confess: concerning the featured theme of our current blogs, 

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Devotee of Writing Prompts.

Should a writer or student relish such an exercise, I consult my 

“Writing Prompts” file and gladly comply.

Should a teacher or presenter put forth such an exercise in a class 

or workshop I’m attending, I seldom respond.

I happily confess, however: I am hopelessly devoted to prompting 

writers and students - urging, assisting, encouraging, coaching 

them - to keep keepin’ on, no matter the project, whether stalled, 

stopped or even stuck.

When it comes to prompt, the verb, my FOR HESITANT WRITERS 

file runneth over.

It holds strategies, techniques, tricks of the trade, tips, exercises 

and recommended books, including the oh, so understanding and 

oh, so instructive book Unstuck (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Most Readers have already met Unstuck’s author - writer, poet and 

Writing Coach Jane Anne Staw, my longtime friend I still fondly 

call Janie.

In July of 2020 I shared in a Wednesday Writing Workout one of 

her illuminating blog posts based on her book Small: The Little 

We Need for Happiness (Shanti Arts, 2017).

Lucky us, because once again, my dear friend graciously granted 

me permission to reprint her published words. This time I’m 

sharing a helpful Try This exercise from Unstuck to prompt any of 

our stuck readers to return to the work at hand.

The book’s subtitle says it all: A Supportive and Practical Guide to 

Working Through Writer’s Block.

In fourteen chapters that help the writer learn his or her own story, 

from “The Right to Write” to “What’s at Stake,” Unstuck lives up to 

its subtitle. Chapters 3 (“Flushing Out Our Enemies”) and Chapter 

6  (“Showing Up for Yourself”) especially spoke to me.

I’m hoping the essence of Chapter Five, “Thinking Small,” speaks 

to you.

Jane Anne-dash-Janie begins the chapter by sharing her two-word 


     “If I were to choose a mantra for my writing, it would be 

     Think small.  Each time I sit down to write, I begin by recalling 

     these two words. And whenever I feel myself slowing down too 

     much or veering off-track, I bring myself back by repeating 

     them. Think small, Jane Anne. Think small. Thinking small 

     actually helps us write big.  Instead of limiting you, thinking 

     small will set you free.”

She ends the chapter with this Try This:

     “Instead of thinking about all the writing you must do – or have 

     not gotten done – think about just one small part.  If you are 

     working on a book, focus on the first chapter only.  If it’s a legal 

     brief, concentrate on the first point you want to make.  If this 

     amount of writing feels overwhelming, narrow your sights even 

     more.  Think only about the first page or the first paragraph.  

     Then, when you have accomplished your goal, congratulate 

     yourself and negotiate the next small step.”


May the above exercise prompt you to think small and - continue

to write… BIG!

Thanks to Linda B at TeacherDance for hosting today’s Poetry 


And thank you, Janie, for once again sharing your smarts, 

expertise and guidance with our TeachingAuthors readers.


Happy Keepin’ On!

Esther Hershenhorn


P.S. from Carmela: Time is running out if you haven't yet entered our giveaway of Zeena Pliska's brand new picture book, Egyptian Lullaby (Roaring Brook Press)! Read this post for details.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Book Giveaway...It's here! Egyptian Lullaby

I drove to work on Tuesday and found myself sobbing…deep sobs…coming from a wave of sorrow unexpectantly bubbling up from somewhere hidden. Finally, the day had come, pub day for my picture book, Egyptian Lullaby.  It has been a long time coming…five  years…I had anticipated intense joy  but not sadness. And then I remembered that my father had died a little over a year ago.  There would be no phone call today to share the anticipated book birthday. 

 In fact, I was in Cairo exactly a year ago because he passed away on March 19th.

Click here to view post about my trip to Egypt

Even more heart breaking was the memory of my Aunt Zina who had been the inspiration for the book. She too died before the book came out.  Again, there would be no phone call. 

I thought about legacy and memories and what we leave behind as I drove to work to be with with my 19, 5-year-olds. I thought about the lifetimes they have ahead of them. I thought about the audience I wrote for when I wrote this book over 5 years ago.  I thought about the irony that the students who would share this book birthday with me were either yet to be born or were just born.  I thought about how their parents were incubating them at the same time I was incubating this book.  I felt how it all swirled around me... Life and death, beginnings and endings, celebrations and being alone…and I marveled at it all through my sobs.


Click here if the video above won't play

Click here if the video above won't play

As an artist, I am always seeking to speak my truth and tell stories through different mediums.  My current way is to write children's picture books.  When I became a parent, I found it difficult to continue to develop as a photographer and visual artist.  My days as a parent were too delicious to divide between being present with my child and creating new works. I chose parenthood and paused my artistic endeavors.  Now that she is transitioning into young adulthood, I am finding the time and energy to return to my former life.  

Picture books seem to come out on Tuesdays.  An odd day of the week to ask children to come to an author event.  This book held so much emotion. It is my love letter to Cairo and all that it means to me. It is also my way to counter the negative media depictions of Arabs that demonize the culture. 

I wanted to acknowledge the day, so I created a photography exhibit with photos of Cairo titled, Dear dear Cairo. The artist reception served as my artist/author event designed to complement the book and carry the same intention and message, to normalize Arab culture for those who are unfamiliar and to celebrate for those who are familiar with it. The Los Angeles photo exhibit is happening simultaneously at two different venues, the Venice Abbot Kinney Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and Village Well Books and Coffee in Culver City.  Different photos will be on display at each venue as part of the exhibit. There will also be a second artist reception on April 22 4:00pm - 6:00pm.

To celebrate the release of Egyptian Lullaby by Zeena M. Pliska, illustrated by Hatem Aly and the 14th Blogiversity of Teaching Authors, we are giving away a copy of the book! See below for instructions on how to enter.

By Zeena

We are giving away ONE copy of the latest TeachingAuthor picture book, Egyptian Lullaby (Roaring Brook Press) written by Zeena M. Pliska and illustrated by Hatem Aly! 

To enter the giveaway drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below. (Note: if the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.)

You may enter via up to 4 options. The more options you choose, the better your odds!

If you choose option 3, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY’S blog post 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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW.  The giveaway ends May 8, 2023 and is open to US. Residents only.

If you’ve never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here’s info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway. And a second article explains the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, April 7, 2023

What's a Serial Deconstruction Poem?

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! 

I am feeling particularly happy today. I've been dealing with a stupid health issue and have been in pain for quite a while. But guess what? 

NO PAIN last night! No pain today! 

And: it's SUNNY again in So Cal! Not rainy, not wildly windy. 

So: No pain, a sun-shiny day, two poems in a new anthology, and Poetry Friday...what more could a girl ask for?

At the end of this post is the Poetry Friday link, info about my summer class, and my poems from Pomelo Books' newest anthology, What is a Family?

Our topic this round is "Offer our readers a writing exercise or prompt." 

Like many friends in the Poetry Friday family, I write a poem a day. Surely I'm not alone when I say that sometimes my brain stands up, puts on its coat says, "Nope. No ideas. I'm outta here."

So the other day when my brain walked out of the room, I took these two phrases from a friend’s email:

·        1) delicate balance

·         2) I wanted to stab my hand with a fork

an   ...and began playing with them. I sliced the second sentence into pieces with which to start new lines:



I wanted to slice watermelon but you wanted

to stab a steak or maybe spear a pimento olive.

My hand hesitated. I offered you a fig, which you ate

with a fork.



I wanted it to stop. I wanted

to stab the newspaper, rip it to shreds, or swipe right with

my hand. After, I went to the ocean and made circles in the sand

with a fork.



I wanted to find the pulse of a poem. I wanted

to stab this page with surprise.

My hand wants that, too. But it’s distracted by that guy

with a fork.



I wanted stars, stars, and stars

to stab this night. I wanted to lift

my hand to them, conducting their murmurs

with a fork.



I wanted you to speak,

to stab that diaphanous curtain.

My hand goes to my lips. You are, you are! I listen

with a fork halfway to my mouth.



I wanted to call this exercise How

to Stab a Sentence to Death. But

My hand disagreed. Hands are very opinionated, especially hands

with a fork.

poems © 2022 April Halprin Wayland


It was a so much fun! I asked my husband what I should call this form. He was eating at the time. He said, "Serial Deconstruction. Or," he said, looking down at his granola, "you could call it Cereal Deconstruction."


I like presenting these poems in groups. Try it. Let me know how it goes!

Many of you know Pomelo Books ~ I call them the publisher with the 💗big heart💗. At its helm are Sylvia Vardell and Janet S. Wong, the proud parents of their newest book, WHAT IS A FAMILY? born on March 31st. 

The 40 ekphrastic poems in this book—inspired by a wide variety of diverse and inclusive black-and-white photos—explore extended families, blended families, classmates and sports teams as families, animal families, and family occasions such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, and much more.

As with the companion book WHAT IS A FRIEND? and also their books in the "THINGS WE" series (THINGS WE DO; THINGS WE EAT; THINGS WE FEEL; THINGS WE WEAR), 100% of the profits will be donated by this truly big-hearted publisher to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund ( (Worth joining; I'm a member.)

Here are my ekphrastic poems from WHAT IS A FAMILY?:



And once again I'll be teaching a one day, three-hour class called ​​Intro to Writing Children's Poetry for the Big-Hearted, Brave,and Curious​! (my title, not necessarily UCLA's). It's on Wednesday, July 12th from noon-3pm PST. The course won't be visible until April 10th; Summer enrollment opens April 24th. 

Tah-dum! I started writing this happy, and I'm ending it happy that 

Margaret is hosting Poetry Friday!

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell

Reminder: I'd love to hear about your own Serial Deconstruction poems! 

I keep bubbling, I know, but one more thing to leave you with. I've been listening to Leonard Bernstein conduct his playful Overture to Candide. It lifts me. Maybe it will lift you, too.

Posted with love by April Halprin Wayland 
with help from Kitty, seen here on my desk, helping me work 
(she's another thing that makes me happy):


Friday, March 17, 2023

Embracing Change with an Etheree

Happy Poetry Friday (and St. Patrick's Day too)!

Today, I'm wrapping up our TeachingAuthors series on the theme of Moving Forward in the New Year by sharing an original Etheree poem.

You may recall that Esther kicked off our topic back in January with her review of The Stories Behind the Stories: The Remarkable True Tales Behind Your Favorite Kid's Books by Danielle Higley (Bushel & Peck Books). Of course, I loved reading all the posts in this series, but April's has especially stuck with me. She shared her One Little Word for the year: Simplify. The word is becoming my mantra as my husband and I try to declutter all the stuff we've accumulated over the last forty years. Given that we've lived in only one place in all that time, it's A LOT of stuff! 

Image of lots of tools and storage bins in corner of a room
This photo by Sigmund on Unsplash looks a lot like a corner of our basement.

The decluttering has been necessitated by the fact that we're seriously contemplating selling our house.  Doing so would be a HUGE change, and we're both finding the idea a bit overwhelming. That feeling inspired me to take up this month's Poetry Sisters' challenge to write an Etheree on the theme of "transformation." I came up with the following. (Click on the image below to enlarge it.)

I still don't know what the future will hold, but writing this poem helped me feel a little less overwhelmed. So, a big THANK YOU to the Poetry Sisters! I look forward to reading all your Etherees at the end of the month. 

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell
Meanwhile, I'm going to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Laura Purdie Salas.


Friday, March 3, 2023

The Causal Chain Experience

Recently, my students asked about creating strong plotlines. Remember, narrative is a sequence of cause and effect.  Stories are formed by an interlinked sequence: Event A causes Event B (and so on). To reinforce both action (external) and emotional (internal) plot movements, build tension, and create strong drama, a writer needs to be mindful of the story’s causal chain.

Harrison Demchick (The Writer's Ally) offered a wonderful analogy on this concept.  Think of plot as a twisted layout of dominoes, and every plot beat in your narrative is a single domino. The first domino is the inciting incident, and once tipped, it launches a succession of plot beats. This is the rising action. Over the course of the story, there are complications, subplots, and dramatic turns.  This rising action reaches a peak, and there’s anticipation – upon baited breathe, perhaps even a dash of hope -- about what comes next. And ultimately, with the climax, the hero emerges. 

Weak plots tend to follow a “This happens, then this happens, and then this happens” formula.  Such a plot is reduced to a series of unrelated scenes. A stronger method for mapping a plot is using the formula, Therefore + But. In this way, the plot unfolds logically, and every scene also becomes relevant. Returning to the domino analogy: while the author may push the first domino over (the inciting incident), the readers cannot help but stay engaged and in awe as several thousand dominoes fall as a consequence. 

In other words, the power in any plot beat is not the beat itself. It’s how the character got there.

Everything that happens should be the effect of what precedes it.  If readers don’t understand why the car broke down when it did, or why the dragon showed up at that moment, or why the roommate left when she did, even if the event is off stage, then it may be issues with causation.  Cause without effect is like a single domino set up alongside, but not within, the domino chain. If the domino can be removed without effecting the chain, then the domino isn’t necessary. Likewise, if you can remove a scene, or a sequence from the manuscript without notable effect on the surrounding action, it reflects a weakened causal chain.

So, what does a strong causal chain do?  The very nature of a strong causal chain -- like dominoes-- creates anticipation and builds tension that leads to a dramatic, emotionally satisfying finale.

For a visual, check out this video, in which pro domino artist Lily Hevesh uses 32,000 dominoes to create a massive domino chain, taking 82 days to build.

This is the perfect illustration that demonstrates how a causal chain works in Story. Each subplot must connect to and ultimately affect the broader action.

This video displays the four stages of Story so well:

1.The Set-Up. 

2. The Context and Complications. 

3. The Empowerment of Hope. 

4. The Emergence of the Hero.

How to strengthen your causal chain: Using these four stages as a framework, outline your narrative using the causal chain format, depicting the events of your story as a series of cause and effect relationships. This should help strengthen your causal chain.

A Note About the Video: TKSST is a collection of 5,000+ kid-friendly videos, curated for teachers and parents who want to share smarter, more meaningful media in the classroom and at home. And it's free for everyone. Curated by Rion Nakaya, first launched with her teens when they toddled. 

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, February 17, 2023

A New Year...An Upcoming Book - Anatomy of a Book's Journey

Moving Forward in the New Year!  

Here we go…2023 is here and I am on a speeding train toward the book launch of my first book that sold in July of 2018.  It’s been a long time coming and certainly not without its own story, replete with the twist and turn of not ending up being my debut book.  So where did it all begin?  Well, with my very own teaching author of course!  Here’s the anatomy of a picture book sale for an author who wondered if it really could be done. 

Chance meetings and serendipity have always been my friends. As a public school teacher in Los Angeles, Otis College of Art and Design allows teachers to take one free extension class a semester. In 2017, I attended an open house ready to sign up for a painting class.  It had been a long time since I had explored my ideas on canvas.  It was a life I had wandered away from once I had a child in 2001. I was ready to add a little pizzaz to my life, to reclaim that part of me that had slumbered through my child’s childhood. I meandered through the tables exhibiting the offerings, awake and alive to the endless possibilities of reentering a formal learning environment.  And then I happened upon Deborah Nourse Lattimore and my life took a new turn.  

I had been exploring writing for children and I had been putting the work in to learn the craft. It was work.  Enjoyable work…but work, nonetheless. I had no intention on that day to add to my workload. I was looking for delight. But, Deborah was pure delight and I found myself signing up for her class instead of the painting class I had intended.  I was about to find myself at a new level of a career that I had been dabbling with, wanting to be serious but unable to find the next level.

Deborah Nourse Lattimore is the author-illustrator of almost 40 children’s books and has taught writing for years. Her gift as a teacher is to recognize each students level and extend their reach in a non-judgmental, nurturing, and loving way.  Deborah creates the conditions for good writing to occur without the student knowing that it’s happening. The growth is organic and authentic and not performative, process over product. I thrived. 

After studying with her for months, I took a risk and randomly asked her if she ever recommended her students to an agent whom she was friends with. She said, “Sometimes.” I ventured further, “Would you consider recommending me?”  I braced for the very real possibility of a no.  But there it was.  My first yes.  

That December I travelled to Egypt to visit my father and extended family.  Egyptian Lullaby tumbled out of me as a full-blown manuscript. I could hardly keep up. It was my love letter to Cairo. 

Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary was still looking at some of my weaker manuscripts when Deborah encouraged me to send her Egyptian Lullaby. Abigail’s response was positive, and my timing was on point. Abi was traveling to New York that week to meet  with editors.  She asked if she could take my manuscript with her. It was a resounding yes from me which resulted in 5 interested editors from leading publishing houses. I naively expected an immediate sale.  


Some clean up and revisions were necessary.  Time passed…editors passed on it…and the manuscript stalled. Knowing that rejection is a part of an author’s lifestyle and accepting that every turn is an adventure kept me out of the trough of despair and imposter syndrome. But time kept passing and nothing was happening. Then we got a bite, but a full rewrite was required. I’m always up for the challenge and adventure so I jumped in and responded to the editor’s direction.  The manuscript was significantly different, but I liked the changes and was willing to let go of the original story. 

We were ready to cross the finish line when Emily Feinberg contacted us. Egyptian Lullaby seemed like it belonged at Roaring Brook Press. A different manuscript that I had in my collection of manuscripts seemed like it was better suited for the original editor whom I had worked with.  So, I ended up with two sales. 

As it turned out, my instincts were right.  The version of Egyptian Lullaby that ended up as a picture book was the original version, illustrated by the extremely talented Hatem Aly.  

Ironically, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story became my beautiful debut picture book
stunningly illustrated by Fiona Halliday. It unfortunately came out on May 12, 2020, just as the pandemic lockdown kicked into full swing, almost three years before Egyptian Lullaby which is due out on April 18th of this year. 

It is a delight to revisit the journey of my first book and honor the people responsible for it. 

This blog post is dedicated to Deborah Nourse Lattimore, my unrelenting mentor who makes me feel like I can write anything, Abigail Samoun, my amazing agent who believes in me, guides me, supports my decisions, gives me the belief that there are unlimited possibilities always possible and helps me bear all the rejections that go with this path, and Emily Feinberg, who took my original manuscript and made it into something I could never have imagined it would be.  

My love for the three of you is immeasurable and my respect is boundless. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

By Zeena M. Pliska

Friday, February 3, 2023

But Ya Gotta Have Friends! (Sorry, Bette Midler!)

January 1st means a fresh start, new resolutions for many people. The Gregorian calendar insists the New Year comes in the middle of grey, grisly, winter, with short days and long dreary nights. I think that's a mean joke. The last thing I want to do this time of year is make resolutions or "move ahead" on a project.

So what do I do to jolt myself out of the midwinter blahs? I talk to my friends As I've mentioned before, some of my best friends are books. I consult my "writers on writing" shelf.

The first book I read about writing was Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit.  Ueland is the friend you talk to when you fall in love with writing, because she's in love with it too.  She gets it. If You Want to Write was published in 1938, but so timeless in style and advice, it could've been written last week. She believes that everyone is talented, original and has something important to say...just what a new writer wants to hear! "Try to discover your true, honest untheoretical self," says Brenda. Wow! Somebody wants to hear from the "real me"? All right!

How can you not love a book with chapters titled "The imagination works slow and quietly," and"Be careless, be reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate when you write." Then there is my favorite "Why Women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing." (Not a problem, Brenda!) I've written journals off and on since third grade, but when I read So You Want to Write in my 20's, I was encouraged to "Keep a slovenly, headlong, impulsive, honest diary." Ueland set me free to write and write and write without fretting over what I was writing, or what it might be some day. She turned me into an enthusiastic observer and journal keeper. I re-read So You Want to Write when I need to fall in love with writing again. (Sidebar--Greywolf Press brought the book back into print in 1983...and it has not been out of print since. That should speak to the quality of Ueland's advice.)

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird came into my life when I was trying to turn all that journal writing into actual stories...and having serious doubts that I could do it. Anne Lamott is the big sister friend, who has been there, done that and is going to tell you Get over yourself! Don't listen to your inner voice screaming, Who told you you are a writer.?You stink! Don't freak out. Take deep breaths. You can only write one sentence at a time, word by word. (Or bird by bird, as per the title.) Whatever writer's block you have, or how horribly you judge your own work...Anne Lamott has already done it, much, much  worse! (If you need a visual, think of Cher in Moonstruck, slapping Nick Cage and yelling "Snap out of it!") When I'm overthinking or hypercritical to the point of inertia, I pour a glass of wine and spend a little time with Anne.

After decades of plugging away, I began to publish. However, the myth that "once you get your first book published, the next one is easier" is just that. A myth. I sold my first book. The next one took four years. (Although in the wild and wacky world of publishing schedules, the second book came out before the first one!) I didn't have an agent. In fact, I was discovering that getting an agent was harder than getting an editor's attention.I was sure that J.K Rowling and Stephen King were not having my problems with a-hiccuping career. That's when I happened on Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. 

Personally, I'm not a fan of King's stories or style. However, I am in awe of how he has made readers out of people who don't like to read. I read On Writing, hoping he had some sort of magic formula. Of course he doesn't. However I discovered has a lovely conversational style when writing about his own life...and not homicidal Plymouth Furys or evil, sewer-dwelling clowns.

 King takes the "toolbox" approach to writing. If you don't possess and use these tools, you will never become a competent writer. His first tool: read a lot and write a lot. I'd been telling my own writing students that for years. I didn't know whether to be disappointed that his advice wasn't more exotic, or pleased that Stephen and I were on the same page, philosophically speaking. I didn't tell my students that by "writing a lot," King means that he writes every single day. That's a discouraging notion to a ten-year-old whose life is already scheduled to the gills.(He once told an interviewer that he wrote everyday except Fourth of July, Christmas and his birthday--but that wasn't true. He writes every day.) I also write every day, although not necessarily of the journaling-and-writing-project variety. I'm a moderator of a Facebook (OK Meta!) page that involves a lot of research and concise explanatory writing. This keeps my toolbox working between projects, and through the spells when my imagination seems to have dried up and blown away. (I tell my students to write on weekends and school holidays...and whenever they are happy or sad or mad. That winds up being pretty much every day...without them knowing it.)

The other "tools" King uses are so basic, I'm a little insulted he calls them tools; vocabulary and grammar. Vocabulary doesn't need to be voluminous (The last time I was required to know and use the word "salubrious" was in taking the ACT.),  varied and useful. If you get stuck, he suggests a thesaurus, preferably not the one that came with your word processing program. For grammar, nothing can beat our mutual old friend, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.  While King never does tells how he can turn out bestseller after bestseller, he does remind me that if you don't read, write, mind your vocabulary and grammar, you're never going to write anything. On Writing is that professor you regard with awe, but when you actually talk to them, find they aren't magical or mystical...just hardworking and focused. 

My last friend is my teacher friend, Ralph Fletcher. (I don't personally know Mr. Fletcher, but after reading everyone of his many books, I feel as if I do.) I rely on Fletcher to inspire me as a teacher.  He is a master teacher of writing as well as a writer for children. He knows how kids think, and how to jazz their imaginations, free them of their writing hang-ups. His books contain writing exercises and topics (he doesn't use the word "prompts") for every age group--including adults. I've never taught a class without Ralph Fletcher at my side, in spirit. 

No one gets through this writing life alone. As the great Bette Midler sings "'cause yah got to have friends." Please feel free to introduce me to some of your writing friends. 

Posted by Mary Ann. Rodman 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Congratulations To Our Latest Giveaway Winner!

This is just a quick post to congratulate the winner of our latest book giveaway: The Stories Behind the Stories: The Remarkable True Tales Behind Your Favorite Kid's Books, by Danielle Higley (Bushel & Peck Books).

 And the winner is:  

                                        Margaret S.

Thank you to all who took time to enter our giveaway. And special thanks to Bushel & Peck Books for providing the book for our winner!