What Children’s Book Author Lee Wardlaw Learned…From Her Cat

Saturday I attended my first writers’ conference: SCBWI-LA’s Writer’s Days. The highlight was hearing from Lee Wardlaw, who’s latest book, Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, has won 20 awards. Her talk, titled “Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Cats About Being a Children’s Book Author” was full of helpful tidbits. Here are some of the key points:

  • Cough up the furballs and move on. When rejection comes your way, make like a cat: Cough ’em up. Spit ’em out. And move on.
  • Play….with your writing. Try writing your manuscript in different ways, for example prose, rhyme, free verse, first person, third person, etc. I just read Ann Whitford Paul’s book about writing picture books. I highly recommend this resource, which provides a number of frameworks for approaching your narrative.
  • Nap. Lee advocates a 15-minute nap a day. Science has confirmed the importance of naps. My current idol, Jonah Lehrer, discusses what neuroscience has to say about the benefits of short naps ….. here.  I must admit that when I’m having a writing problem, the “final relaxation” in a yoga class always seems to do the trick.
  • Stretch. Full-time writing is a sedentary business. Get some exercise. Your body will thank you for it. And your writing might too (see yoga, above).
  • You have to expose your belly to get belly rubs. Put yourself out there and take risks. Take a class. Consider if your writers’ group is working for you. Try something new.
  • Beware of predators, primarily self doubt.
  • Purr. Do what you love.

Also, Putnam editor Stacey Barney offered the following approach when starting a writing project. Make sure you can write a one-line description for each of the following elements. You could even write these on a post-it and stick it to your monitor so you can refer back to it constantly:

  • Story. What’s your story about, for example, Harry Potter meets Captain Underpants.
  • Characterization. Why should we fall in love with your characters. Who are they (briefly)?
  • Writing. What style is appropriate for your story/characters? Lyrical? Tension-filled?
  • Voice. What personality and emotion shine through in your writing? Some writers are too dependent on dialog and don’t leave room for narrative reflection.

All-in-all the day helped me hone my craft. I’m certainly looking forward to the international conference in August. I hope to see my fellow 12 x 12ers there.

24 thoughts on “What Children’s Book Author Lee Wardlaw Learned…From Her Cat”

  1. This is good stuff Kirsten! I wish I had a whole wall to map out story and post-it full of advice. But I’ve made a pdf to use as a sort of ‘desktop’ image! Whatever works! Glad you feel you really got something out of the conference. I’m working on a poster image now (deadline today!) to see if I can win the reg.-fee for our local conference!

    1. I like the desktop image idea. I am more of a computer person too. And good luck with your poster! I’m looking forward to reading your critique of my MS this afternoon.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing these tips! Adly, I am so far away and can’t get to conferences, so it’s good to be able to live them vicarously through all of you. BTW, Lee Wardlaw will be on No Water River on Friday with some haiku from Won Ton, and I can’t wait!

  3. As I read this my cat came in to see what I was laughing about!!! She was not amused…but oh my – what good advice! Thanks, Kristen. Am going over now to check out more on Lee’s book.

  4. What a neat book! I don’t keep rejection letters. I know a lot of writers do and I’ve even heard of some writers plastering them on their wall. Not me though. I throw them in the garbage. Throwing them away makes me feel better.

  5. Hi Kirsten – Hopefully you saw that Lee linked your post to her Facebook. Very cool. Great post. I was there Saturday as well and it was awesome. Highly recommend SCBWI for anyone writing or thinking of writing children’s books (picture, MG, YA, etc.)

  6. Great notes! That sounds like an interesting book, especially if it’s all in haiku! And I like the editor tips!

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