Monday, May 28, 2018

May 2018 -- Taking a Brain Break at a Writers' Conference

~ yeowatzup
So, you’re going to attend a writers’ conference, eager to dive into some serious study of craft. Well, believe me, you will find plenty of that packed between inspiring keynote speeches and faculty panels. For example, I recently attended the Oregon SCBWI conference. Saturday’s breakout sessions found me facing a rapid-fire succession of strategic questions during a Character Boot Camp with agent Molly O’Neill, discovering ways to switch off a reader’s “default mode of traits” in editor Tiffany Liao’s Fundamentals of Writing Cross-Culturally, tracking the Secrets of a Great Synopsis with author Martha Brockenbrough, and quivering with nerves as I read and then waited for feedback during a First Page session with agents Natascha Morris and Molly O’Neill.

Sunday’s breakout sessions started with only slightly less quivering nerves as eight of us met with Natascha to read and critique up to 500 words of one of our picture book manuscripts. With that over and my nerves off the hook, I checked my schedule. And that’s when it struck me. My writer’s brain was tired, close to overloading. I really didn’t think I could keep focused through one, let alone three more breakout sessions if I kept doing what I had been doing. It was time to give myself permission to take a break and go off schedule. It was time to remember that an important aspect of attending a conference was enjoying the experience.

I stuffed my notebook (dutifully full of scribbled notes) back in my bag and headed to one of my favorite off schedule retreats: an illustrator focused workshop. Picture books are a collaboration between writer and illustrator, so I’ve always found seeing how the other half works to be both entertaining and inspiring. I’ve even learned more about the interplay of text and pictures from these sessions. I entered, fully prepared to sit back and observe. Wrong! It turned out that the presenter, Vanessa Brantley Newton, considered everyone in the room a participant. Our goal? Musical Creation. (Think musical chairs, but each time the music stops, everyone moves to a new table and either builds on something someone else started or starts a new something.) Tamping down the impulse to run like a scalded cat, I took a seat. And played. And found it both relaxing and re-energizing to stretch my creative muscles in a different direction. 

Then I did something even more revolutionary. I sat out the next session. Granted, there wasn’t a  topic I was particularly drawn to that session, but that didn’t mean that little voice in the back of my mind grumbling about wasted opportunities was easy to ignore. But I did. Torn between a short nap back in my room or finding a quiet spot to just veg, I compromised. First I visited the art portfolio displays, something I hadn’t taken time to do yet. Then I found a quiet spot and read back over my session notes, slipping added bits of clarity into mystifying scribbles while things were still fairly fresh in my mind. That part may not sound like resting my brain, but there really is a big difference between frantically jotting down notes during a fast paced session and going back over those notes at your own pace.

By then it was time for the last breakout session of the day (and conference). Relaxed and refreshed, I was able to focus on and enjoy Natascha Morris and one of the writers she represents offering their insights on Working with an Agent. I even managed to ask an intelligent question or two. Yet the best part of taking those off schedule breaks? I avoided those washed-out and tired-out doldrums that can hit just as the final keynote speech is about to begin. I heard every inspiring story and quote that SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver delivered. And missing any part of that would have truly been a wasted opportunity.

So, attend those writers’ conferences and soak up your craft. Just don’t forget to enjoy it. Let keynote speeches be a vicarious journey, more about listening than note-taking. Use mealtimes and breaks (even those long bathroom lines) to chat with other attendees and possibly strike up new friendships. Most importantly, don’t forget to give your brain a break. Take that nap, attend a session you might not normally consider, visit the bookstore or art portfolio displays, or even, gasp, just find a quiet spot and veg. You might just be surprised at how much more you get out of your overall experience if you do.


Friday, April 20, 2018

APRIL 2018 - Pitter Patter April Showers

Pitter Patter
Ground Mist

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MARCH 2018 -- Spring Has Been Delayed

Our spring has been delayed this year,
That’s what the newsman said.
It seems the sun has lost its shine,
It’s staying home in bed.
With all that wintry snow and ice
It’s caught a nasty chill
It fears that if it ventures out
Its wattage might be nil.
A physicist has been sent in
To see what he can do.
He thinks a shot of hydrogen
Will fix things good as new.
A rocket ship filled to the top
Is launched with blazing speed.
Stay still, dear sun, don’t move an inch.
This cure is what you need.
Shot rocket flies across the void,
Aimed for a sweet sun spot.
The sun looks pale, but doesn’t move . . .
And the shot hits on the dot.
Spring has finally sprung this year,
The sun’s no longer sick.
He’s glowing like a super star—
That gas sure did the trick.
** This poem was prompted by the unsettled weather March has once again brought to several parts of the country.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 2018 -- Some Thoughts on Valentine's Day

Valentines: A Romantic’s View
You ask, I answer.
Love, as if a butterfly,
Spreads its wings to soar.
Valentines: A Pragmatist’s View
A day for unloading
Red, heart-shaped boxes
Full of bite-sized temptations
With anonymous centers.
Valentines: A Child’s View
Twenty-some cards with labored signatures
Carefully deposited into twenty-some white bags
Painstakingly covered in pink and red hearts.

Friday, January 26, 2018

January 2018 Starting the Year (Late)

Many people start a new year with resolutions--usually ways to change their behavior. I start my new year with a behavior designed to hold unchanged my resolve to remain a writer. That's why when January rolls around, I'm signed on and ready to Storystorm.

Storystorm is the brain child of Tara Lazar, writer of many marvelous books for children including 7 ATE 9 and NORMAL NORMAN. The idea is simple: each day in January you try to come up with at least one story idea, thereby collecting at least 30 ideas by month's end, each of which may or may not germinate into a full picture book manuscript. There are even daily posts from other writers and illustrators meant to encourage and inspire your idea gathering. As I said, simple, right?

Not this year. I'm behind on reading those inspiring posts and if my ideas come any slower, I'm considering hiring snails to hurry them along. Has my idea mojo moved to a new neighborhood? Is my muse still hung over from the holidays? Did someone spit on the spark that fueled my imagination?

Who knows. But I'm sticking to my behavior. The ideas may be coming slowly, but they are coming. And if I don't have 30 by month's end, I have plans to enter the Writer's Protection Program. No one is going to snuff me out for not coming up with the goods.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

DECEMBER 2017 -- Shepherds Christmas


The angel said to follow the star
To seek a newborn child
The one who’d bring the world hope
A new covenant with God
So we left our sleeping flocks behind
To follow that bright star
Down the hills to Bethlehem
To a lowly stable cave
Joseph nodded, bid us to come in
Mary’s smile eased our fears
We stepped close and saw the child
Lying in a manger bed
Then while angels sang a song on high
We knelt before that bed
This child moved our hearts to peace
We saw God’s promise there.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 2017 --- Golden Shovels and Thankfulness

I recently came across an intriguing picture book written by Nikki Grimes called “The Watcher.” It is written in a poetic form known as the golden shovel. This form was created by Terrance Hayes who wrote his poem “The Golden Shovel” as a tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool.” Grimes’s poem, a 2-voice dialogue about classroom bullying, was inspired by Psalm 121. You can learn more here: Nikki Grimes

Here’s how a golden shovel poem works:

·         Take a poem you admire (1 line, several, all)

·         Each word in the lines you’ve chosen becomes the end word in the lines of your poem.

·         The end words must be kept in order.

·         Be sure to credit the original poem and poet of your inspiration

·         Your new poem and it’s inspiration don’t have to be about the same subject

Always up for a challenge, I decided to try creating my own golden shovel poem. And since we are fast approaching Thanksgiving, I chose as my inspiration an old childhood prayer familiar to many. Enjoy.


It shouldn’t be hard to Thank
All those who love you
To speak up and say thanks for
The very many ways that the
Love that they give makes this whole world
And your place in it so
Amazing, so sweet.
It shouldn’t be hard to Thank
Those who care for you
To speak up and say thanks for
The things they provide—not just the
Necessities like clothing and food
But all those extra things we
Want to wear or eat.
It shouldn’t be hard to Thank
Those who challenge you
Or to say thanks for
The pushes and the prodding, the
Call to fly higher than the birds
And do all the things that
Cause your heart to sing.
So why not pick now to Thank
Those who surround you
They’re your gift from God
Why not say “Thank you for