Turning to 2013

Celebrating New YearNow that you have survived the end of the world, I’m sure you’ve given some thought to what’s ahead for 2013. I don’t do resolutions, per se, but I do like to set goals for myself each year, so I can measure my progress. This seems to come naturally at the end of the year when I’m getting my planner organized, transferring over birthdays, appointments and more. (Have I mentioned how much I love Levenger’s Circa system?)

2012 marked my real return to writing, after I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge. You can learn about my progress here. About halfway into the year, I learned that I probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the process of writing and revising picture books, submitting them to editors, and waiting six months or more for a yay or nay. It can take established authors 5 years or more to sell manuscripts this way, not to mention the challenges a new writer faces.

While I will still shop the picture book manuscripts I have and write those I feel passionate about, my goal for 2013 is to break into the work for hire market. Essentially, I want to develop a relationship with publishers, primarily in the education market, so I can get assignments. I’ve set my sites on a couple of SCBWI events that will introduce me to educational publishers. I’m also going to focus on submitting articles to paying and nonpaying markets in an effort to build up my writers’ resume and increase my chances. Again, I am sure this process will take a long time, but at least I’ve narrowed my focus.

I’ve also realized that I need a writing workshop to brush up on my writing skills. I took two half-day workshops this summer on creative nonfiction and writing leveled readers, but I definitely crave more. Finding the right workshop has proved tricky, since many children’s writing workshops are focused on fiction. However, I now have a few leads thanks to a discussion group I recently joined focused solely on children’s nonfiction.

On the personal front, I did run my first 10K in 2012, as well as a couple of 5Ks, including one with my Dad. I have more races lined up for 2013, including another 10K. And a few girlfriends and I have set our sights on Disney’s Tinkerbell Half Marathon for January 2014. We’re looking at some training programs and have stepped up our strength training workouts and run schedules. Oh, and we’ve already planned our wardrobe inspired by the picture below.

Have a blessed 2013 everyone!

PiBoIdMo: The Nonfiction Perspective

My PiBoIdMo Notebook

It’s PiBoIdMo! In layman’s terms, that’s Picture Book Idea Month, brought to you by children’s author Tara Lazar. The challenge involves coming up with one picture book idea each day for the month of November. It’s a fun way to get your creative juices flowing and hopefully come up with a few executable (is that a word?) picture book ideas.

I have a special notebook I’m using. My friend Sheyla bought this for me when I decided last year to write for children. Each day’s idea gets its own page, so I can do a bit of research and flesh out the ideas when I have time. I already have one I’m pretty excited about. Perhaps I’ll make it my 12 x 12 manuscript for the month.

Honestly, I am hardly ever short on ideas. It’s often a case of too many ideas and too little time. I have to sift through my ideas and see which ones I can execute and which ones have a wide enough audience.

Even though I write nonfiction, I bet many of my ideas come from the same places as those of fiction writers. Here are some places I’ve found ideas:

  • Books (mostly nonfiction). My very first children’s book idea came from a footnote in PACKING FOR MARS.
  • Articles: newspapers, magazines, online. The truth is often stranger than fiction. A capybara loose in a waste water treatment plant once inspired a piece.
  • My kids. Sometimes it’s things the things they say. Sometimes it’s the way I have to explain things to them when they ask, “Why?” or “How?” Children are an endless source of inspiration.
  • Fiction picture books. Today’s idea came when my six-year-old cuddled in my lap. (He is so big!) It reminded me of the classic picture book, LOVE YOU FOREVER, which was a recent topic of discussion among some 12 x 12 writer friends. A few more things fell into place, and voila!
  • Museums and other cultural institutions. I’m a real tourist. When we visit somewhere, I take as many pictures of the exhibit signs as I do of my family. There are always interesting tidbits I can mine for ideas later. Which reminds me, I have a few pictures from this summer that I haven’t looked at…

I’m curious, if you are a fellow writer, where do you get your ideas?

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.

When Curious Kids Get Sick

Sick boy

Well, we’re all still in our pajamas. Nobody’s going to school or “Mommy and Me” today. We had a sleepless night marked by raging fevers and barking coughs. So now I’m contemplating how best to keep two housebound, curious kids entertained until nap time.

Right now the kids are playing Starfall on the computer. Normally, I’m pretty strict about how much “screen time” they get, but these are extenuating circumstances. We’ve snuggled up with several favorite picture books and magazines, like Wild Animal Baby. (Note: We also love Highlights High Five, Big Backyard, LEGO Club Jr., and National Geographic Little Kids, which have lots of activities and puzzles.)

After a couple of PBS Kids shows, we have a science experiment to finish up. Yesterday we grew red and blue polyacrylamide crystals. We stacked them in a test tube and are awaiting the “sunset” it should produce. Sometimes being sick slows the boys down just enough that they are game for coloring, activity books or craft activities. When they are healthy, these things don’t keep them occupied for long. And there’s always our mountains of LEGOs to build and board games to play.

As for me, I will try to take advantage of this “slow” day to get some extra writing in. Since there’s been a marked downturn in wrestling and fighting, I’m revising my January manuscript so I can share it with my newly formed critique group. I’m hoping to finish a critique of another member’s draft today. I plan to go through and “Like” or “Follow” all my 12 x 12 in 2012 pals. Oh, and I need to get together a submission for Query Tracker’s logline contest. I better get moving before Mr. Rogers is over!

 

12 x 12 x 12

What’s that, you might be thinking? A cube with a volume of 1728? The size of a new ottoman I’m buying? A 3D scrapbook page? Guess again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I do set goals, but I create them organically throughout the year when opportunities arise. Well, a once in a lifetime opportunity popped up last week: the 12 x 12 in ’12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, and I jumped on in.

12 x 12 in ’12 is the brainchild of pre-published author Julie Hedlund. Two years ago, Julie brainstormed 30 picture book ideas during the month of November as part of the PiBoIdMo challenge. However, Julie realized that she only completed one manuscript from the 30 ideas she’d come up with. Thus, a new challenge was born: write 12 children’s picture book manuscripts in 12 months in 2012.

More than 300 people have signed up for the challenge from published authors and illustrators to newbies like myself. There are tremendous benefits: an ongoing support group, opportunities to form critique groups, prizes that include manuscript reviews by published authors. We work on the honor system. No one has to post a manuscript anywhere, we’re just honest with the group about whether we’ve reached our goal for the month. Manuscripts don’t have to be publication ready, but they do have to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

For me, the greatest plus  of accepting the challenge has been a shift from “trying to be a writer” to “being a writer.” Julie Hedlund calls herself a “pre-published author,” a term I adore, and one I’ve adopted for myself. Julie’s completed books, she just hasn’t acquired an agent or a publishing house…..yet. I liken writing to running. If you lace up your shoes and get on the treadmill or track to run, you are a runner. You don’t have to complete the Boston Marathon to be a runner. Writing, like running, is a process. If you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, you are a writer regardless of whether you achieve publication.

I’m excited about this opportunity to write the types of children’s picture books I love: activity-based science books, biographies of scientific heroes and so forth. And I’m sure by December, they’ll be at least one or two fiction pieces in the mix. At this rate, I might even be pitching agents at the August  SCBWI conference ( Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) a full year ahead of my previous goal.

Do any aspiring writers want to join me for 12 x 12 x 12? You have until Jan. 29th to officially get in the game. Have any parents, teachers or grandparents seen holes in the nonfiction children’s book market that need filling? I’d love to hear your book ideas. If you don’t want to write them, I just might.