Get Over the Winter Writing Blues

Shake it off. My motto today drives me to the keyboard. Or, maybe you need a prompt – a favorite writing exercise to provide something to write about.

Pick a color (favorite, hated, one from a hat). Then write about it in terms of the 5 senses. List HEAR, SEE, TASTE, TEXTURE, FEELING across the top of your page. Set your timer for 3-5 minutes. In each column, list as many words as you can about your color. Example: Red is a bell ringing, a crown, a rich bon bon, a velvet skirt, and haughty. Now keep going . . .

. . . AND if you are wonderfing how to format your Picture Book manuscript, click this link provided by Julie Hedlund and the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge, 2015.

http://www.writingpicturebooksforchildren.com/manuscript-formatting.html

PB 14:14 – Top Ten Elements of Picture Book Stories – Word Play

Picture Book author, Vivian Kirkfield, has allowed this reblog of her excellent post today. Wanting to write YOUR BOOK? Check this out.

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Almost two years ago, I was privileged to travel to Singapore to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I met authors and illustrators from all over the Pacific Rim countries and beyond.

For Day 12 of Christie Wild’s PB 14:14 Challenge, I’m offering one of the books by author/illustrator Christopher Cheng. Not only is he an amazing creator of children’s content, he’s also a stellar speaker at events all over the world – he’ll be presenting at the NESCBWI Conference in Chicago this April…wish I could go!

water-300x257

Title: Water

Author: Christopher Cheng

Illustrator: Susanna Gaho-Quek

Publisher: AFCC Publications

Date: 2013

Word Count: 180 estimated

Top Ten Element: Word Play

 

Opening Lines:

“In the air that we breathe

on ice capped peaks

frozen in time

View original post 137 more words

First There is Grattitude in 2015

for Julie Hedlund’s short program The12 Days of Christmas. The videos are archived and enabled me to participate. One suggestion was to write this post on gratitude. THANKS, Julie.

for TIME spent with family. It’s the real gift that keeps on giving, especially when I’m with any one of 10 grandchildren. The youngest begins pre-school. He has left his presence in my heart and home; thus, this arrangement of the manger scene on 2014 Christmas Eve.

Manager Scene

Manager Scene

for overall good health, in spite of having to continue exercising one knee and reinstate my exercise habit of many years, after repairs this past year.

for my writing habit that continues to prepare me and push me closer to my goal of publishing children’s books.

for travels with spouse to California and Maine.

for new friends and old friends who lift my spirits and who, in SCBWI and 12 x 12, critique my manuscripts.

for faith that holds steadfast, telling me I am not alone, and brings a little magic into the world at Christmas. (See my Christmas poem on my Poetry Page.)

for a sharp physician who confirmed that I need less medication now. YAHOO!

for money – the lack of it shall not, solely, determine my goals.

for a habit that I developed while working under a leader and friend, Pat Easterling, who said to write my to-do list before I go to bed. When I awake, I’ll know what I have to do, even before I make the coffee.

And, on these chilly days, I often think of my mother and grandmother who taught me to cook and clean. I am thankful for choices and opportunities they weren’t afforded. I’m thankful for my cozy home, favorite recipes, and my husband who love my cooking.

A 2014 SUCCESS STORY

It began with a program: Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. There was a Bronze Level, Silver Level, and Golden Book Level. Not yet published as a children’s book author, and not yet written anything that was ready to publish, I chose the Silver Level, so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to submit to the programs featured agents. I had a lot to learn. That was my plan.

Then, I met writers like me, online. One illustrator was from my city. Some were authors already. It took a few weeks to get used to the forum technology, but I let folks read my first 250 words of a story and I read their words. I gave and received feedback. These were nice folks with a great attitude. They had written and/or published the best children’s books.

With new confidence, I had no problem volunteering to read my grandson’s favorite Rosemary Wells book as a guest of his kindergarten class. I’d like to make more visits.

I wanted to connect. I joined some of the writers in a private Facebook group. I met others in a Google launch and in Webinars. I joined Pinterest. I upgraded my Website and began to blog about my writing journey. (Thank you followers. Posting more often, a 2015 goal.)

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because it was recommended as a continuing resource. The 12 x 12 member from my city is also a member of my local SCBWI group.

I attended the SCBWI day-long conference in Chicago. DID I MENTION IT WAS ON A YACHT? The food was fabulous. The speakers were, too. And author Liz Garton Scanlon (wrote Caldecott award winner, ALL THE WORLD) presented a short workshop on revising a manuscript. I bought her books, one to serve as my example of a concept book. I learned how to edit my work for brevity and cut the “darlings” that did nothing to move my story forward.

AND, now I could give a critique that might be valuable to the writer. Three ladies in 12 x 12 and I formed a Critique Group. We live in different states and countries, but we’re on a schedule and submit work weekly. They don’t always tell me what I’d like to hear, but they tell me what I need to know. I learned to trust their expertise and trust myself, when I have reason. I learned to revise, revise, and revise again, until a manuscript shines.

Before I attended a summer SCBWI weekend conference, I made business cards. I worked hard to take in all the wisdom of an agent, an editor, and author who were speakers. I participated in another critique group for the weekend.

The next month, on a short family excursion, my brain produced a story faster than I could write. Another came out in rhyme in the car.

In 12 x 12, an author from Australia gave me a free critique – a prize bomb. That meant I could submit my entire manuscript to her. I couldn’t believe someone would take their valuable time to pour over my story and add her brilliant thoughts.

I also enrolled in other programs. Each program had an area in which I needed to improve, if an editor or agent were to take me seriously; such as, How to Make Money as a Writer and The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions.

Could I complete a November program, PiBoIdMo? It’s presented every year by Tara Lazar, picture book author. I DID IT! I got 30 ideas in 30 days! Two manuscripts are already written.

One amazing program that I desperately needed was Video Idiot Boot Camp, a Katie Davis product. It proved to be too much to finish just yet. However, I succeeded in updating my technology at home. I made a Welcome video and posted it on YouTube and on http://pammmiller.com . I can improve lots in this area, but I have made a place for an author’s work to be seen and grow. Most importantly, I have an account that is just for my business, because a writer is an entrepreneur.

While some of my journey was fun as well as pedagogical, I’ve developed a writing habit. I wrote 12 and one half manuscripts during 2014, posting 10 of them in 12 x 12. In 2015 I’ll return for another year of inspiration and support and try to give more than I have received.

Children’s books? At every opportunity, I’m looking at the latest, the funniest with telling illustration, the Best of 2014, the concepts and characters, because I am an entrepreneur and because I have young grandchildren who are learning to read. I’ve read over 100 picture books. My immediate goal, after posting this blog, is to update my list of 100. It will include my latest favorite, THE PICTURE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. Although it seemed a gimmick, the author was brilliant because he simply wrote for kids to make them laugh and to want to read.

Please check out the video of B.J. Novak reading his book by searching for it on Amazon. It’s full of silly words that make children say, “Read it again.”

As a writer, I attended a Christmas party with my local group. Gosh, it was fun. Earlier, an agent had presented an amazing program for us. We were invited to submit a manuscript for critique. Mine has come back marked for revision. But we will talk again. And those professional comments make me very hopeful for my writing journey.

That’s my new plan: write, revise, talk with agents/editors. I’ve taken the first step.

Don’t forget to check out my Welcome Video and my 100 Best Children’s Picture Books List.

Manuscript in the Making

Picture books are stories with an author’s succinct words; that is, verbs that show action, words that rhyme, and lyrical writing. But that’s half of the book. The wonderful illustrations tell the part of the story that the words don’t.

Before that happens, the story is a draft manuscript. (Maybe you have written one lately.) In the first revision, I’m looking for a great opening sentence – it’s usually about three paragraphs down.

Often, I begin with back story. That’s the information about the setting or the main character’s (MC) description and traits. That’s okay, because I need to know all of this to define the MC, but I don’t need to write it all on the first page. (This is a good way to ease into your writing.)

A picture book is short. While editors used to suggest 1000 words, many advise cutting to 500-600 words before submitting for publication. The reader, an adult reading to a child of 4-8, wants to keep the child’s attention, so a good opening sentence begins in the middle of the action. Then the page must be turned to find out what happens.

I’ve cut lots of words by beginning with the third paragraph. I’ll save that draft. I might need to review my thoughts later. For example, when the MC rushes in the back door and tosses his/her book bag on the kitchen floor, I’m setting the time of day—after school time. If the MC gulps down part of a soon to follow meal, that part of the story won’t be illustrated with orange juice and muffins.

More revisions follow and cut more words. Descriptive words are deleted. It’s the job of the illustrator to decide hair color, princess dress or jeans, and whether the MC is a girl, a bunny, or a dragon, unless the title indicates or a “purple plastic purse” is a character trait and crucial to the story. My verbs should not be passive. Instead of “he was running,” I write “he ran.” I also delete modifiers: quickly, very, sweetly.

If I’ve rambled a bit (much like my blog today), I may have created a funny or cute situation, described a darling little girl’s playhouse. But, if those “darlings” don’t advance my plot, don’t show the result and consequences of the MC’s first attempt (of three) to solve his/her problem, out they must go.

Why don’t I just write into a grid the first time? Would I still need to revise? Yes. Revising improves and polishes my manuscript. It puts things in an expected order and, hopefully, goes a step beyond.

Writing, of course, isn’t just an organization of words. The words that flow from my pen (and yours) create a unique voice. It’s from my heart into the character. It’s creative fiction, but the story rings true. It breathes, and the magic begins.

For fun and inspiration read to a child this week, or the child in yourself. I’m beginning a list of my favorite Picture Books. Watch for the tab, soon.

Eating Humble Pie

On Saturday, Aug. 23, I attended the Art Opening Reception, “Inspired Journeys,” at the Prairie Art Alliance to congratulate, especially, one of the exhibitors, E. Vern Taylor.

The work of juried member artists and three featured artists comprised this exhibit: Pam Allen (jewelry), James Johnston (paintings, prints, and photos), and E. Vern Taylor (paintings and pastels). And I had planned to see this exhibit more than six months ago, when Vern Taylor told me of his plan to create images in paint and poetic stories.

So, on Saturday evening, I drove to the reception, parked, and entered the Hoogland Center. Vern Taylor was monopolized in the lobby by friends, family, and/or fellow artists. I turned the opposite direction, first, and entered the gallery.

As a past juried member of the gallery, I was excited by the bustling room and the familiar faces, some whom I had only seen on Facebook this last year. When I turned my attention to the exhibit, I recognized the work of the long-term juried artists and noticed many new names. Ceramics, wood, and 3-D collage complimented the paintings and pastels hung on the walls.

I moved on around to the meet and greet area assigned to the featured artists. Vern would probably be there, I thought.

The printed program gave a brief bio of each of the three. Pam Allen told how she created many art forms before finding that jewelry was her passion. James Johnston cited his faith and appreciation of Native Americans as inspiration for his painting and photography. He had exhibited in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Music spilled over many conversations. I couldn’t see Vern yet. At the opposite end of the featured artists’ area, I joined some folks I knew who were also admiring Vern’s work.

Vern’s bio read, “Since seventh grade, I have loved the process of bringing a painting to fruition.” Vern created each piece in this exhibit as a remembrance of profound inspiration in his life. He added his poetry beside many framed paintings.

I was drawn to Vern’s mysterious painting of a midnight blue night. A golden moon outlined a large tree, and a shimmer of light from above highlighted a flower in the foreground. The grand and bold sea gull was pointed out by many. A large painting of Japanese maple leaf motifs refreshed like a breeze with reds, browns, and lavenders (on this hot and humid night). Vern’s poems I must read again to grasp all that he shares in rendering a beautiful, successful memoir.

No Vern in sight yet, so I talked a few more minutes – well, probably a half hour – and needed a cracker and cheese bite for my growling insides.

Now, alone, I felt my knee (not fully recovered) had tightened and swelled. I said good-by to another dear friend at the top of the stairs and felt the evening had ended.

In my car, after driving three blocks or so down the street, I wanted to know more about Vern’s . . . Yikes! I hadn’t talked to Vern. I hadn’t congratulated E. Vern Taylor or thanked him for all the months of work he put in to ready this exhibit.

So I now ask, publically, for forgiveness, E. Vern Taylor, and eat my humble pie.

If you see Vern, please pass this along: “You accomplished your goal. Yeah! Yours is a magnificent memoir, a truly “Inspired Journey.”

 

The Right Writing Place

Not every day is a writing day, although I agree this is the best way to form such a habit. Thoughts swirl in my mind, a to-do list seems to grow by the hour, and 10 minutes doesn’t seem long enough to compose a single sentence. But today, 10 minutes was just enough to get two ideas down on paper as a “note to self.”

Today is my effort to fashion a writing time again (after surgery, recovery, a long-weekend in Maine, online learning in two great programs, and an excellent SCBWI meeting, and “school’s starting” fun with my grandkids claimed my attention). I make coffee and take half a cookie into a room where music plays low to occupy the side of my brain that is thinking about the carpet, the laundry, the dinner that’s planned out, but will soon need started.

I actually get focused more quickly when my grandson stays the day. By his nap time, my brain is too tired to multi-task. The birds’ conversation out back on the screened-in porch helps, unless a close mower tops the chirping. Sometimes I read a bit first or work on last week’s crossword puzzle.

So, if this is your time, pick up a pen, paper, water or other, and get to your “supportive place” (chair/room/porch). Begin with something you know: the past, family, an issue, a new word (look it up), or the color ____, and describe it using the five senses. You are on your way. From your writing habit, you will develop a strong voice. And, that voice will take you where you need to be.

 

ABC’s of Writing

A thank you is due 12 x 12 Challenge participants and administrators who are always on my mind, because I weekly look to them for ways to improve my craft.

Boldly stretching my mind, my dollars, and my time to go where I’ve not yet been.

Can I craft six more manuscripts during the second half of 2014 working at this pace? Coffee, please.

Dialog on WordPress and Facebook, for me, is pushed by this jingle in the back of my mind: Do it; Do it right; Do it right now.

Effort? Come on, how much effort could it possible take to write a page a day? Exactly.

Frankly, my dear, you can clean the toilet today.

Great, I’m almost to the end of “one page.” ( hand written lines.) But the laundry is in, and I may have enough coffee to write to “Z.”

Hiya,” said Mighty Max.” (JuJu reminded me to add the magic.)

I will submit. The time is near.

Jane Yolen, of course, who has written over 300 books for children and who inspires me, because she advises, creates, pens, publishes, and believes we can. And, that humbles me today, forcing me to “keep butt in chair” (quote from Ms. Yolen). I pause to give thanks for this author who gives much back to the writing community.

Kaleidoscope we PB authors make, while bringing color and light to kids.

Love it when you understand my words.

Much to learn. Making progress.

NOW? If not NOW, when? I’m really bad at networking, but Katie Davis makes it look so easy. She knows everyone; can do anything technical. Her only competitor is that little kid, who is guru to two of my grandsons, when he previews candy and toys on his YouTube channel.

Open mind, open heart. Operative for writing. Books are a way to take a precious moment in time and make more of it. The camera might miss it, because it only sees in one direction. You might have missed it the first time, because you were multi-tasking. As a PB author, I can write the whole story with a good illustrator, of course. *BTW science of the brain tells us that the brain cannot multi-task. When we try, it seems to work, but a chart of your cerebral path would show that for a second (less than), your brain left one thing and worked on another.

Queen Julie Hedlund, administrator of 12 x 12 Challenge, online. I know she delegates, and rightly so, in a comprehensive program that makes clear my author’s path and makes me want to run that direction.

Repeated daily are: rest and exercise and writing.

Slow but steady won the race. Sometime we have a growth spurt, but logging into 12×12 Challenge gives me new thoughts and review, skill building, and it affirms with responses from others.

Time? Some days it manages me. One child gave me a refurbished lap top for Mother’s Day. Yeeha!

Use all your resources to enlarge your world.I’m one of those who can say, “I walked everywhere.” It worked, at the time, but my world was so small.  In 1966 I had one small TV, one car that I didn’t know how to drive, walked with child and stroller. I used pay phones and wrote letters. I talked to the lady at the Laundromat. Only my husband drove and worked 8-5 that year. It was a blessing when he lost his job, because we moved back to our families and friends. We got a telephone. I learned to drive. I got a job. Life began again.

Voice: I have one that in my writing speaks volumes. It didn’t always. My voice is not the voice of one Grandson, Max, who has a voice that is a little loud, at times, but always strong, confident, and enthusiastic right up until the moment he falls asleep. He is both a verbal and non-verbal communicator. At a garage sale, he will count his money and smile at the seller and return to me to ask why he got his item for FREE.

Work. Don’t worry about who does the most around the house. Housework/yard work is never ending. He might see that an electrical outlet needs moved. She might see that it’s time to defrost something for the evening meal. But here’s what I think: He who cleans the toilet dies last.

X” out some of the clutter. It renews the spirit.

YOU:Life isn’t about YOU. It’s about all of us. Listen to the stories of others. Listening is an affirming communication.

Zipping this blog up now with best wishes for your day. 🙂