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.