Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you and your families well and off to a great start to 2017. Wow, 2017! Seems odd to see that number in print, but here we are. It’s time for setting both goals and boundaries as we each dive into projects that make our hearts sing! So, in the spirit of this brand-spanking New Year, I want to offer a brand-spanking-new picture book critique special.
For the entire month of January (OK, I’m a little behind since one week has already passed! LOL) I’m offering two PGWRites picture book critiques for the price of one! That’s right…it’s a buy-one-get-one-free opportunity that typically only happens once each year.
So, if you’re ready to start this writing year off with a bang, save those last few changes on that manuscript you’ve been working on and send it in! Then, when you’re ready, you can send in another picture book manuscript for a second critique absolutely free (a $50.00 value)!
Just visit the PGWRites Critiques page and follow the instructions for payment and submitting your manuscript. It’s that easy! Hope to see lots of amazing stories in my inbox very soon!
Here’s to the best writing year ever!
Sensibility– New years are for new beginnings. Dream big and take that important first step.
Sense– Set goals you can reach in a reasonable amount of time. Biting off too much in the first few weeks of the New Year can set you up for failure!
On deck for next week. . . an interview with newly-minted picture book author, Jodi McCay. She’s stopping by to tell us all about her new book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS. And she’s also offering a MS critique (double bonus!). You won’t want to miss it!
It’s November, and thoughts during this month naturally turn to thankfulness. Many friends on social media sites have taken the “30 Days of Thankfulness Challenge,” and I’m enjoying reading multiple posts on a daily basis. But this is a post about encouraging your muse, and you’re probably wondering what thankfulness has to do with getting that contrary gal (or guy) to work. Well sometimes it’s all about being thankful.
My muse is an odd bird. You might assume she’d enjoy rainy days filled with thoughtful music, multiple cups of tea and all the dark chocolate she can find; that a little over-the-top emotion from me is all it takes to get her creative juices flowing. You know, kind of like the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy pours his heart out on paper to Elizabeth (although he was pretty disgusted with her at that moment). The all-night vigil he keeps with feather pen in hand, desperately trying to explain how wrong she was about him (except for the part where he purposefully keeps Jane from Bingley). He writes with abandon, sealing his words with a big blob of red wax, and instead of going straight to bed, heads towards the grove where he hopes to find her (I’ve watched it way too many times).
But I’ve recently realized there’s a better way to get my muse moving. “Tell us please!” you say. “Don’t keep us waiting one more minute.” OK, here it is…BEING THANKFUL!
Yep, you heard me. One of the best ways to get my muse in the writing frame of mind is practicing thankfulness. Here’s how it goes…
I get up, pack lunches and help get breakfast. I send my husband and daughter off to school, look at my computer and sigh. “I don’t want to sit there all day!” I moan. “I don’t have anything useful to say to anyone. I don’t care about deadlines. I’m tired.” Then I walk by the offending machine to get a shower (and hopefully an attitude adjustment). By the time I’ve had my caffeine (Diet Coke), I’m feeling a little better, but not good enough. So I read my devotional and Bible and spend some time meditating. I close my eyes and open them, and there it is; the blank screen staring back at me. “It’s time,” I say aloud, “for some thankfulness.” My list goes something like this:
I’m thankful for…
The chance to work from home. When there’s three feet of snow outside, I don’t have to commute, put on a coat or even get out of my jammies if I don’t want to (but I always do). This is a very good thing.
My family. When you’ve seen your kid go through two major surgeries in two years and watch him graduate, get a great job and get married all in a few month’s time, that is something to be thankful for. I write to help all of them realize their dreams while I’m realizing mine.
My health. When you get diagnosed with RA and you think you’ll never write, or do anything, again, you don’t take little things for granted. Each time I wiggle my fingers or get up from my chair, I remember a time when I couldn’t.
The ability to think and process information in a way that others can read and understand. We writers take this for granted regularly and we shouldn’t. Just like you might wish you could run a marathon or play an instrument, there are many people who would love to be able to do what you do.
God’s grace in my life. Even if God never blessed me with one more thing, He has been very good to me. That is reason enough to work hard and be grateful for the gift each and every day.
My list gets much longer when my muse is especially contrary. But most days, after these five things she gets the message that it’s time to get back to it and be joyful in the process. And if there’s a little dark chocolate somewhere in the house that makes her even nicer.
Even if you don’t practice the “30 Days of Thankfulness Challenge” in your life this month, at least take time to be thankful for the gift of language and story and the heart to use both to bring others joy.
Sensibility- The ability to put words together into stories or information that can benefit others is a gift. Use it and treasure it.
Sense- If your muse isn’t showing up for duty, inspire her by creating a “Thankfulness Journal,” or “Family Diary.”
How do you encourage your muse? What are some things for which you are thankful?
Well let’s see, my last post here on Sensibility and Sense was July 21, and so much has happened in our lives since then . . .
The first major change was adding a big, black puppy to our family back in August! Barnabas is a bouncing bundle of joy and mischief and has become my new writing partner (currently curled up under my desk). He has destroyed a few phone chargers and some headphones, been a little slow in the potty-training department and succeeded in making our cat his mortal enemy, but other than that, he’s turning out to be a great dog!
About two weeks after Barnabas arrived, our Julia went off to college. We packed up her big old car (named Betty) and headed to Grand Rapids. She had orientation for a few days and officially became a college student on September 8! Julia is studying music education with an emphasis in violin. We’re so proud of her and can’t wait to see where this journey leads.
Of course, Julia’s leaving for college meant that our household of five was now a household of three. Our youngest, Olivia, is a high-school junior this year, and she’s learning how to live with all of the attention from her parents squarely on her shoulders! She’s doing a fabulous job adjusting to being the only child at home and is currently my hero;)
And finally, just a little over a month after Julia started college, Wesley, our oldest, got married to his sweetheart Katie! Our family gathered from as far away as Hawaii on a picture-perfect October day to witness their vows to each other and before God and celebrate their amazing love story. It was a happy day full of beautiful moments and special memories, and we are all feeling so blessed. . .
That was a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve settled into a steady fall hum here at the Richards’ house. Now that I’ve kind of recovered from all the activity of the last few months, it’s time to get back to work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been working all along, but only on weekly deadlines and not other writing projects. And now, when I’m completely caught up on work and have all the time I need to dust off some things that have been waiting, I can’t seem to wrap my brain around getting started.
It’s like when you haven’t exercised in a while, but you can’t find the energy to take that first step. When you’re forced to take a hiatus due to celebrations, life’s changes, illness or other things that demand your time and attention, it can be hard to start putting your thoughts down again on a regular basis.
But like taking those first steps on that treadmill, getting a few words down at a set time each day will have you up and writing again in no time. At least I’ve found that’s what works for me.
If you’ve been putting off a project that seems to be calling your name, why not join me and get started? There are two writing challenges coming up that can help. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) may be just the thing to get you working again. Each event begins on November 1 and runs throughout the month. Sign ups are happening now!
So what are you waiting for? Kick that muse out of her recliner and get back to work. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did!
Sensibility-Take time to be fully aware when wonderful things are happening. Each savored moment creates a memory that will last a lifetime!
Sense-Pushing too hard after an extended time away from writing can create frustration. Ease back into your writing schedule by setting aside one hour each day to get a few words down.
What do you do to get back into your writing routine after an extended absence?
Poetry brings a different kind of music to the world, and it helps us see that same world through the eyes of some of the most sensitive and emotionally well connected artists who ever lived. Now, you’re probably thinking, “It’s a little late in the month to finally be talking about poetry Patti!” But really, is it ever too late to talk about something that is both beautiful and powerful? I think not!
For the writer, there are lots of ways to celebrate National Poetry Month! And if you haven’t done so already, here are some of my best suggestions:
Post some of your favorite poems on your social media sites. I love sharing works by Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson and James Whitcomb Riley on my Facebook page.
Get to know a new poet! It’s easy to fall back on your favorites when you want to spend time enjoying poetry. But we writers are to be students of other writers. This is one of the best ways to make your words stronger and more meaningful. So choose two poets that are new to you and study them for the rest of the month.
Rediscover some of your favorite children’s poems. I still have my Mother Goose book on my book shelf. I loved this book as a child, and I like to take it out occasionally. But as an adult and a writer, I look at it differently. Study some of your old favorites this month and focus on good examples of alliteration, rhythm, rhyming patterns and word play.
Participate in “Poem in Your Pocket Day!” This year the day is April 30th. On that day, choose one of your favorite poems, carry it around in your pocket, and take the opportunity to share it with friends, students and others at libraries, coffee shops and anywhere there is a spontaneous poetry slam!
And if you’re looking for great poetry resources to help you celebrate, here are some of my favorites:
Ed Decaria’s, Think Kid! Think (Promoting kid’s poetry/ sponsor of March Madness Poetry Contest)
So, even though there are just two weeks left in April, there’s still time to enjoy some poetry and share it with those you love. And if you’ve never written your own poetry, just throw those excuses out the window and do it! You never know where your words will take you.
“In Just Spring,” by e.e. cummings
Sensibility-Poetry brings beauty, gentleness, wisdom and controversy to the world. The words of great poets ask us to think deeply and challenge us to be and do more than we thought we could.
Sense- Read your favorite poets, then as an exercise, mimic their writing. Use your own words, but model the pattern set for you and see how they fit into the poets mold.
I know what you’re thinking…inspiration point sounds like a place where Fonzie and Richie used to take their girlfriends! Well trust me, that’s not what today’s post is all about, so keep reading. (This is longer than usual, but indulge me just this once, OK?)
I call an inspiration point a place or moment in time where a writer’s muse seems to jump into overdrive. Ideas for new stories flow like water, and we can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I’ve had many “inspiration points” on this journey. Some are obvious, and others more subtle. But learning to recognize and remember them is important.
One of my first inspiration points was my grandparent’s farm outside of Nashville. They had 200 acres and raised cattle. They also grew corn and hay to feed their livestock. My grandmother had a large kitchen garden, and my grandfather had a tiny orchard. Some of my earliest memories are of playing in the creek, taking salt blocks and hay to the cows, riding high on the tractor wheel well and catching my first fish! And it was a big one let me tell you. I’ve tucked those memories away in safe places in my mind, and when I need inspiration for a story, I often dust them off. The smell of hay, the taste of homemade molasses on hot biscuits slathered with butter and the sound of tree frogs are as near now as they were when I was a braid-wearing tomboy of seven or eight. But sometimes our inspiration points need a refresher, especially when new memories make things a little crowded in the safe places in our minds.
So my husband and I took a short trip over Easter weekend while my girls were away on a school trip to NYC. We drove down to Nashville to spend Easter with his family, and on our way back home, we took a drive down that long, familiar, dippy-windy road…
We stopped at the church cemetery first and walked among the headstones. I paused to read the names of my grandparent’s, uncles, great-grandparents, and the names of those I belonged to but had never met. Then we drove past my great grandmother’s house, and I looked for the small cabin where my dad was born. I was glad I had taken a picture of it many years ago because it had finally fallen down. Then we drove up the hill and down the narrow driveway. My grandmother’s house looked so different. The pristine fruit trees were gone, and the garage that was my grandfather’s pride and joy was nearly hidden by trailers, RV’s and other big toys. But tucked right behind it was the smokehouse. I could almost see Granddaddy coming out the little door with a big chunk of country ham ready for breakfast. Can you smell it?
We drove up to the pasture and got out. Our little Gracie dog thought she had died and gone to heaven. We walked down the steep hill towards the old tobacco barn. I stood still when I thought I was in just the right spot and listened. The gurgle of the creek branch sang the same song as always. And after stepping in the barn to see if the sweet tobacco smell was still there, I walked to the water’s edge, took off my shoes, dipped my feet in the coolness
and closed my eyes…
I saw Dad picking up the rocks Mom chose. I heard my sister’s voice as she splashed in the icy water. I heard Granddaddy in the pasture above, calling the cows home for supper. And it was good to remember…
Before we left, my husband broke off a piece of the old barn door and it’s waiting on our garage floor. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but it will eventually be somewhere close to my desk. It’s nice to have inspiration points nearby because sometimes you need to run your hand over aged barn wood to find your center again. I’m sure I’ll do this many times in the years to come, and it will be good to remember.
So, that’s one of my inspiration points. There are many others of all shapes and sizes. They are beautiful and good and confusing and difficult and joyful and grace-filled. They are the stuff of life. And as a writer, it is good to remember.
Sensibility- Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Good writers are always looking.
Sense-Write descriptions of some of your favorite inspiration points and tuck them away for future use.
What are some of your favorite inspiration points?
And of course, Punxsutawney Phil quickly let us know that winter was here to stay. Phil’s an expert at predictions based on one simple thing: seeing his shadow. Apparently, he’s scared of the blackish-gray blob that appears on the snow. When he sees it, he scurries back to his burrow as fast as his short, chubby legs can carry him. But I think Phil is onto something here. Something we writers can learn from.
How often do you see your shadow when revising? The familiar black blob that creeps over your computer screen and won’t let you get rid of all the unnecessary bulk in your manuscript. You know, the one who says, “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written. You can’t change THAT!”
Or how about when you know a character just isn’t pulling her weight and needs to go. Your shadow says, “But I LOVE her! The story can’t live if she dies!”
And there’s the one I really struggle wtih: the shadow of self-doubt. I’m sure you know her. She’s the shadow of the writer you were last year, a month ago, yesterday. Her favorite saying is, “All your best writing days are behind you. Why even BOTHER trying to make this story better. It’s TOTALLY yesterday’s news.”
As in the case of our favorite weather-predicting rodent, shadows can tell us things we need to know. They’re how our ancestors used to tell time. Shadows warn of us danger and bring us comfort as evening turns to night. But shadows can be a real nuisance to the revising process.
So don’t let your shadows scare you! Your best writing days aren’t behind you. If that character is dragging your story down give her a serious facelift or let her go. And if you think you need to slash 1000 words from your MS, you probably need to get rid of even more. Be honest with yourself. Send those shadows packing and bring your story into the light of day where it can really shine!
Sensibility- A shadow can be a friend or a foe. Let yours guide you in the revision process rather than slow you down.
Sense-As an exercise, remove as many words from your current manuscript as possible. When you think you’re done, take out 1000 more. For picture book writers, trim your manuscript to no more than 500 words. Then see if you can eliminate a 100 more.
What is the most difficult shadow you fight when revising?
Participating in these two activities is a great way to boost your creativity and help you reach some important writer goals. I’m not officially participating in either activity this year since I’m still putting the finishing touches on my new non-fiction picture book. But I am keeping up with daily PiBoIdMo blogs and cheering on all you November novel writers from the sidelines! I have done both before (although not in the same year) and have been very pleased with the results. NaNoWriMo inspired me to begin work on my second middle grade novel a few years ago. And even though I did not finish it in one month, I was able to get a solid start and complete a rough draft a few months later. My PiBoIdMo list continues to grow, and I’ve written several new picture books in the last year that came directly from the ideas I have listed there.
So, if you’re in need of some inspiration, it’s not too late to get started.
I encourage you to visit each of these sites to learn more about both activities. Happy November, and as always, Happy Writing!
Sensibility-Writing is a journey, but it has to start somewhere. Set aside time for writing each day to help wake up your muse!
Sense- Use activities like NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo to jump start your creativity and help you set goals.
If you’re participating in these activities, let us know! If you’ve participated before, how have these two things impacted your writing?
This weekend my family I did something we’ve never done before. We went salmon fishing!
Northern Michigan- and specifically the TraverseCity area for us- is known for its yearly salmon run, when these big, beautiful fish start their yearly journey from big lake to rivers and ponds to spawn. We’ve always wanted to do it, so this year we loaded up the car with rods, reels, tackle boxes, licenses, jackets, gloves, hats and headed up to the Pinky of the Mitten.
Well of course it rained all weekend, and it didn’t take long for us to realize we weren’t as well equipped as the many fishermen that dotted the river banks. But hey, we’re all good fisher people in my family, although a little green behind the gills when it comes to salmon fishing. So we found what looked like a friendly spot, threw our lines in the water and waited for a big one to strike!
After about 30 minutes of casting, letting the current take the line, reeling in and casting again, I noticed I was right across the bank from what looked like a real pro. I mean, he had it all—waders, rain jacket, waterproof hat, fancy tackle box, cooler, stringer, and a totally awesome, colorful bobber—and while I watched him, he caught a beautiful salmon. Right there, in practically the same spot where I was casting my line. It wasn’t long before I found myself looking carefully at his line, adjusting my bobber to match his depth, casting in the same direction he did and pulling out my line at almost exactly the same time. I was determined to get my fishing action as close to his perfection as I could. I mean, how often do you have that kind of model standing right across the river from you? After almost an hour, I noticed something—he opened his cooler, took out a container of pink stuff and tossed a few handfuls of it in the water. I knew right then that he was baiting the salmon with fish eggs, a technique I had heard about along the river that day. Even though I was doing all of the same things he was doing, I was missing a key component that seemed to be the ticket to his success.
My writing journey has been kind of like my fishing trip. Based on what I read and learn at conferences, as a writer for children, I’m doing all the right things. I have a regular critique partner, participate in other critique groups, have a pretty big portfolio, have diversified into several different genres, and I’ve had a little bit of success. I’ve worked hard on my online presence and have many Facebook and Twitter followers and blog regularly. I’m submitting all the time and have even had some great conversations with editors and agents and have built some solid relationships. But after nearly 15 years, I still have yet to have a “hold in your hand” book out there.
I don’t write this to whine or discourage you, but sometimes, even when you’re doing everything right, your story just doesn’t play out the way you’d envisioned. But chin up my writer friend, your journey in this business doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. And there are many out there who would have you believe that if you’re not subscribing to their blog, newsletter, writing challenge or program, or other things that cost you lots of money, you can’t and won’t catch that “fish.” And it simply isn’t true. But what you can do is try and figure out what’s missing—that fish bait if you will—load up your writing tackle box and start using it!
I’ve realized that for me right now, I need some editorial-based, educational “fish bait.” So I’m looking at having my novel professionally edited by a well-respected, seasoned veteran in the kid-lit business. I’ve also started Kristen Fulton’s Non-Fiction Archaeology class to jump start my writing knowledge in this area that I’ve dabbled in for years. And if this class goes well, I’ll be taking more online classes in January as time and budget permits.
So, are you fishing with all the right equipment but just can’t catch anything? Take a good look at your tackle box and talk to others who at least look like they know more than you. Chances are the magic “bait” your writing career needs is closer than you think. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m hoping it will help me finally catch “the big one!”
Sensibility- Your writing journey is unique to you. Don’t get discouraged if your time has not yet come.
Sense-Be wary of spending money on writer “gateway” programs that promise leads, connections or special inroads not available through any other program. Nothing beats a well-written story, and the persistence it takes to get that story out there.
What are some things you would like to add to your “writing” tackle box?
Thanks to all of you for your great writer-education ideas and for sharing your experiences! Along with all the amazing educational opportunities out there, learning from other writers is probably the best way to increase your own writer knowledge!
So without further delay (drum roll please)…the winner is Danielle Hammelef! Danielle wrote about her experiences taking the Institute of Children’s Literature writing courses. Thanks so much Danielle for sharing your insight about this great opportunity. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know where I can send your prize! And for everyone else, stay tuned to Sensibility and Sense for more great give aways and more advice from one imperfect writer to another!
Sensibility- Adding knowledge to your writer arsenal is like adding fertilizer to your plants. A few drops at the right intervals can make bigger blossoms and better stories.
Sense-Choose writer education that increases your knowledge of craft and boosts your personal creativity.
I’m just getting back from a lovely vacation with my family to beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Ah, Charleston, where ocean breezes blow (really hot ones), palmetto trees sway, and history is in and around every corner. Since I’m thinking about taking children’s author, Kristen Fulton’s nonfiction writing course, Charleston piqued my author interest at just about every turn. I was also doing some research for another project I’m working on, so I guess you could call this kind of a working vacation. But don’t get me wrong, I did more relaxing, enjoying my kids and my husband, eating and exploring than I did working. So now that I’m back at my desk, how do I take all the things I learned as I was letting my muse rest by the pool with me and turn random thoughts into something productive? I mean, vacations are amazing, but Monday always comes. It’s time to hitch up my big-girl overalls, tighten my saddle and get back to work.
So here are a few suggestions for getting back in the writing saddle and turning all that R&R into something productive:
Ease back into your writing schedule. I tend to let the work take over, and before I know it, I’m just as tired after two days back at my desk as I was before I took time off. Take baby steps after a vacation and give yourself at least two days to ramp up to full speed unless you have a looming deadline.
Organize your vacation thoughts. Many writers carry notebooks with them wherever they go. I do not do this. My brain stores lots of information and so far, my memory hasn’t failed me (for the most part). If you are a notebook carrier, then this will be easy for you. If you’re like me, you’ll need to sit quietly at your desk for a few minutes each day as you get back to work and write down thoughts, experiences and places as you recall them. I do this right from my keyboard and into a computer folder.
Give yourself a break. If you’re having trouble getting back into a writing rhythm, stop beating yourself up. It could be that your muse needs a few extra days to rest. While you’re waiting, find other productive, writing-related tasks that need attending to. Read a new book on plot or characterization. Organize your desk. Answer your backlog of emails. Send out some queries or submit a few manuscripts. Take the opportunity to do some of the things you’ve been putting off while your creativity revs back up to before-vacation mode.
Whether you’re just getting back from vacation or looking forward to a few days off, enjoy the moment, knowing that time away is sometimes just the boost you need to get back in the writing saddle.
Sensibility-Vacations are gifts. Use yours to heighten your senses and enjoy the life that is happening all around you.
Sense-Rushing creativity when you get back from a much-needed break can increase writing anxiety and derail the writing process.
How do you “get back in the saddle” after a vacation?