Books, Cultivating curiosity, Writing

Inspiration – Another SCBWI Takeaway

Inspiration is a much-discussed part of the creative process. There are two parts to inspiration: all the inputs that feed inspiration and the moment of inspiration itself. While we may not be able to control the flash of inspiration and its timing, we can help lay the groundwork. The key is to expose ourselves and our children to experiences that can inspire us.

A childhood walk in the woods inspired nonfiction writer Melissa Stewart and her writings. Her father asked Melissa and her brother to look carefully. What did they see? Melissa noticed smaller, younger trees surrounded by taller, older trees. She was right; there had been a fire years before, and the young trees had sprouted after the fire. That experience — thanks to her dad — helped Melissa see the narrative in nature and influenced her career path and writings.

While I was at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, my husband texted me at 10:o0 p.m. Sunday evening. Should he wake up Cooper to watch the Curiosity rover land on Mars. Yes! Yes! Yes! When we visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory months ago, I was struck by how many members of the Mars Science Laboratory team remembered watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television. They pointed to that experience as the inspiration for their work in space science. That same event, along with the book, THE RIGHT STUFF, inspired my husband to become a test pilot. I knew letting Cooper witness the event might provide him with the inspiration he needs to study Mars or other planets some day.

As a parent, I know we can provide opportunities and experiences that could inspire our children’s career path, creative work, hobbies or interests. As a writer, I know the more knowledge and experiences I have to draw from, the richer my work will be.

Cultivating curiosity, Writing

The Importance of Imagination-SCBWI Los Angeles

I have been remiss in blogging since my return from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles. I’ve had a hard time processing all of the wonderful inspiration and information and distilling it into something more than just a transcript of the proceedings. However, I think I’ve finally hit on some takeaways in keeping with the spirit of Creating Curious Kids.

First, imagination: Rock star Tony DiTerlizzi’s tag line is “Never abandon imagination.” (And when I say rock star, I mean it. There was an hour wait for his autograph, and I half expected people to ask him to sign body parts.) DiTerlizzi told a powerful story in his keynote. The summer he was 12 and refused to play outside in the South Florida heat, his mom told him to go into his room and find something to do. Tony stuffed a Trapper Keeper full of drawings and encyclopedic notes, using paper, art supplies and his imagination. These drawings would later spark his blockbuster SPIDERWICK series.

Boredom, I think, is a necessary ingredient for imagination to run free. Kids — and grown ups too — need to be bored so we have room to imagine and create. We need time for quiet without distractions. Deborah Underwood, author of THE QUIET BOOK, reinforced this point. The quiet while she waited for a concert to start inspired her popular book, as it allowed her to observe several different types of quiet. Had she been checking Facebook on her phone or talking to someone beside her, THE QUIET BOOK may never have come to be.

Aside from boredom, we also need access to the tools of imagination: art supplies, papers, pencils, computer programs, flour, LEGOs, whatever media you or your children work best in. Famed illustrator Bryan Collier didn’t take an art class until high school, but he remembers the magic of watching the watercolors bleed together on the paper. Meanwhile, puppeteer Kevin Clash (aka Elmo), works in fabric and thread. He famously used the lining of his dad’s good coat to make a puppet when he was a child. Everyone is an artist or creator in his or her own way, we just work in different media.

In my next post, I’ll talk about moments of inspiration and how we can hopefully provide these for our children.


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.