Monday, July 23, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

First, I must disclaim -- it's not over yet!  Here in Maryland, we have almost exactly one month left to go.  And here in the Ford household, we are squeezing the most out of every minute.
As I've said before, for many writers summer means a disruption of sacred writing routines.  I have no writing routines (at least not outside of my day job).  For me, summer means glorious time to relax, to write, to live!

Last summer I took a wonderful online novel writing workshop at McDaniel College (offered through their Writing for Children and Young Adults certificate program).  This summer I enrolled in a picture book course there.   My instructor this semester is editor Kristin Daly Rens, and we're using excellent texts by Ann Whitford Paul and Uri Shulevitz (for the writer/illustrator's perspective).

I have to admit that, regrettably, I did not pay much attention to picture books when I studied at Vermont College.  While I have the utmost respect for picture book writers (the most difficult form, in my humble opinion), I had never had a great interest in books for very young children.  I am not a visual thinker; I never had picture books read to me when I was a kid; and, most crucial, I never spent much time around very young kids if I could help it. 

Fast forward ten years.  I have two little ones and have read at least 1,000 pictures books since my daughter was born.  While I still don't anticipate that a picture book writer persona will spring suddenly from my soul, I realized that the novel writer in me could really benefit from learning more about the form.  A picture book is, after all, a novel in miniature.  All of the character and plotting issues that I struggle with in novel-writing have been laid bare in these last few weeks, deconstructed and reconstructed.  And it has been awesome!

One of our assignments this week was to discuss the contents of our "Writer's Toolboxes."  Here's an excerpt from my post:

I think that one of the most challenging aspects of creating a rootable character is finding a way to make him/her likeable and flawed at the same time. And while the importance of keeping the main character active is obvious, the execution of this maxim is often difficult.

Because one of the most important things a writer can do is read, I really appreciate the reading lists that Paul included in her book.

I also love the way that Shulevitz walks us through the process of creating a story board/dummying (is that a verb)? Since I vaguely knew what I needed to do but had never had it explained to me in such detail, this will be a reference I go to again and again.

The 'show/don't tell' advice has been pounded into my brain forever, and I pound it into my students' brains in turn. However, it's figuring out where a little telling is okay (and necessary) that's the big challenge.

Other items in my writer's tool box: grammar/mechanics; commitment; passion!

I discovered that it's good to reflect on this question from time to time.  What's in your Writer's Toolbox? --Jeanne Marie


Don't forget to enter our latest Teaching Authors Book Giveaway Contest, celebrating Mary Ann Rodman's new release, The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking).  Details can be found here.


Kenda Turner said...

ummm, perseverance...? :-)

Carmela Martino said...

>>A picture book is, after all, a novel in miniature. All of the character and plotting issues that I struggle with in novel-writing have been laid bare in these last few weeks, deconstructed and reconstructed. And it has been awesome!<<
Great point, JM. And I'm so glad your class has been so helpful.
And I love Kendra's mention of "perseverance" as one of the tools in her writer's toolbox. It's something we all need!

Linda B said...

I love hearing about your writing workshops & some of the things you learned. I am reading a professional book about teaching writing that also recommends using a storyboard. I enjoyed hearing you talk about that too. Maybe someday I will be able to take a workshop. I think passion is absolutely a good thing to have, & some days I have more than others, especially during the disjointed summer days. I am distracted by 'things' in the summer, like taking on too many things because I think I have so much time. The important part of my toolbox is observation of the moment, being present instead of always looking ahead.

Jewel Sample said...

I too took a writing class this month. I learned free flow writing is important to have in order to get the story on paper, then edit as your heart leads. Free flow writing taught me to be more aware of details. Details of the senses and settings help show the story. My tool box now has "detail awareness"

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Linda, being present in the moment is something I desperately need to work on. Thanks for that reminder. And yes, Kenda, perseverance! Jewel, I agree that getting the story on paper is infinitely more important than getting it right on the first try. "Get a draft," as they say. Then have fun with revising.