Thoughts on Writing Poetry

Gleams When Wet cover

I’m strug­gling to write a poet­ic pic­ture book. To fill me with the metaphor, imagery, rhythm and meter that I’m striv­ing for, I’ve been read­ing oth­er books of poet­ry. Two inter­est­ing things hap­pened dur­ing today’s readings…
Gleams When Wet cover
First, I was read­ing Gleams When Wet by Debra Spencer. I had picked it up at Half Price Books on a whim, since I’m most­ly search­ing for ideas that have to do with water. Inter­est­ing­ly, it’s most­ly set in the Monterey/Santa Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia, area, which is where my old­est child is cur­rent­ly study­ing marine biol­o­gy, so that was a fun con­nec­tion. There are some beau­ti­ful and intrigu­ing poems in here, as well as insight­ful com­men­tary on life. It made for quite an enjoy­able after­noon. (Yes, sit­ting and read­ing poet­ry all after­noon is some­times actu­al­ly my job. How lucky am I!?) What par­tic­u­lar­ly struck me, how­ev­er, is the inscrip­tion from the author (“To XXX, anoth­er adven­tur­ous father, with love from Debra”) and the hand­writ­ten card still tucked inside: “Hap­py birth­day, XXX — I think you’ll enjoy this. Her poems are won­der­ful! See page 54! I also love Old Sailor’s Man­i­festo (p. 34) — and many oth­ers. Enjoy! Love, Mom” (*Note: Name changed to XXX to pro­tect the innocent. 😉)
When I first read these words, I was instant­ly sad­dened. His mom had poured so much love into this thought­ful gift (not to men­tion it was per­son­al­ized by the author)! How could he have giv­en it away to end up on the shelf at my local HPB? But then I thought, self­ish­ly, how lucky I was that he did, else I would nev­er have hap­pened upon it in my ran­dom HPB trea­sure hunt! Then I thought, maybe he read them and they just did­n’t con­nect. It’s kind of sad that Mom missed the mark, but hey, it hap­pens. Hope­ful­ly, he appre­ci­at­ed the thought, at least. Or maybe he read them and loved them, tak­ing pic­tures of or typ­ing up his favorites to file them away dig­i­tal­ly rather than clut­ter­ing up his phys­i­cal space. In the end, I’ve decid­ed, it does­n’t mat­ter why he did­n’t trea­sure it. The real gift was in the giv­ing. No mat­ter what XXX felt about the gift or his rea­sons for pass­ing it on, it warms my heart to think that his mom loved him, that she also loved words, and that she want­ed to share them with him. As I strug­gle with my poet­ry project, I have often thought that per­haps it’s not worth it, per­haps it’s too far out­side of my wheel­house and I should stick to what I’m good at, per­haps no one will ever read or care about my words. Per­haps Debra thought that, too, before Mom came to get Gleams When Wet signed for her son. Per­haps, if I keep strug­gling, some oth­er Mom will lov­ing­ly buy my poet­ic pic­ture book for her child, and I’ll to get sign it, “To XXX, with love.”
River of Words cover
Anoth­er book that struck me was Riv­er of Wordsedit­ed by Pamela Michael. It’s a col­lec­tion of poems writ­ten by young people–many as young as 6 or 7–about the nat­ur­al world. And. it. is. so. good! Not only did it do exact­ly what I was hop­ing for–filling my artist’s well with even more water images and metaphors to poten­tial­ly use in my own project–but it was incred­i­bly inspir­ing as well. Yes, these young writ­ers are clear­ly very tal­ent­ed, but they are cer­tain­ly not pro­fes­sion­al poets.  Yet, their poems sing with mean­ing. The depths of what they are able to say with so few words reminds me why I’m try­ing to com­plete this project in the first place, to con­vey some­thing that is deep and mean­ing­ful to me to young read­ers. And the suc­cess the poems achieve in con­vey­ing each indi­vid­ual author’s essence gives me hope that per­haps my poet­ry can one day make that kind of con­nec­tion with read­ers, too.
So, thank you to the poets out there strug­gling to make your words and mean­ing flow. Thank you to pub­lish­ers who still believe in cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful poet­ry books for chil­dren and adults. And thank you to every­one who buys books to share with those you love. 💛

It’s PiBoIdMo time!

Novem­ber is here, and that means it’s time for Pic­ture Book Idea Month. So far, I’m two for two: woohoo!
PiBoIdMo 2014 banner
Remem­ber the Howdy Doo­dy theme song? Did you ever notice how PiBoId­Mo has the same num­ber of syl­la­bles as “Howdy Doo­dy?” Now that I’ve noticed, I can’t get it out of my head. So, I thought I’d share my lit­tle ear­worm with you here:

It’s PiBoId­Mo time.
It’s PiBoId­Mo time.
Tara and her great crew
Wish PiBoIds to you.
Let’s give a rous­ing cheer,
Cause PiBoId­Mo’s here,
It’s time for books to grow,
So here we go!

I love PiBoId­Mo. Some­times it’s a strug­gle to come up with ideas (okay, most times), oth­er times they seem to flow faster than I can write them down (okay, rarely, but when it does it’s awe­some!). Either way, it feels good to have those ideas tucked safe­ly inside my note­book, ready to blos­som when giv­en a chance.
And yes, even non­fic­tion writ­ers (like me!) can par­tic­i­pate in PiBoId­Mo! Christy Peter­son has a great blog post on how to do that. I rec­om­mend read­ing it here (even if you write fic­tion!). I usu­al­ly come up with about half non­fic­tion ideas and half fic­tion ideas, and I use all of the meth­ods Christy men­tions in her post.

sample Fiction Magic card
sam­ple Fic­tion Mag­ic card

This year I’ll also be using a new tool that just arrived (per­fect tim­ing!). My friend Deb Lund is a tal­ent­ed author, teacher, and cre­ativ­i­ty coach. She’s made a deck of cards, called Fic­tion Mag­ic, which fea­tures prompts to inspire writ­ers as well as a handy guide­book on how to use them. I drew one card today, played around with it for a while, and voila… I had two new ideas! You can get your own set of Fic­tion Mag­ic cards here.
I prob­a­bly should­n’t be doing PiBoId­Mo at all this year. I have too many projects call­ing to me at the moment, and the last thing I need right now is more ideas! But, PiBoId­Mo is about so much more than the ideas for me. It’s about cre­ativ­i­ty, play­ful­ness, free­dom, and fun, and every year I end up redis­cov­er­ing why I decid­ed to write for chil­dren in the first place. In those ways, it’s good for my career. PiBoId­Mo also reminds me to look at the world through a lens of dis­cov­ery and curios­i­ty, won­der, grat­i­tude, and empa­thy. In those ways, it’s good for my soul.
I may not love all of the ideas I come up with dur­ing PiBoId­Mo, but I love what PiBoId­Mo does for me. If you want to write pic­ture books, I hope you’ll give it a try, too! You can reg­is­ter through Novem­ber 7th at this link.

2012 Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book report #1

Phew! Now that I got my revi­sion done and sent in, I can get back to read­ing Cybils nom­i­nees in the non­fic­tion pic­ture book cat­e­go­ry that I am judg­ing. Last year I wrote up longer reviews of only a few of the Cybils nom­i­nees. This year I’m going to try to write many more, but short­er, reviews. Rather than offer com­pre­hen­sive reviews, the goal will be to cap­ture my ini­tial impres­sions and thoughts. So, here comes the first batch!

BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY by Melis­sa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin)
This is a won­der­ful book that should appeal to all kinds of kids, across a wide age range, and with many dif­fer­ent inter­ests. The art­work is stun­ning. The sto­ry of Tony Sarg and the begin­nings of the Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Parade pup­pets is one that need­ed to be told, and this book tells it art­ful­ly, illus­trat­ing the man’s cre­ativ­i­ty as well as hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. Enter­tain­ing, inspir­ing, and educational—all rolled into one beau­ti­ful package.

BROTHERS AT BAT by Audrey Ver­nick (Clar­i­on)
This is the true sto­ry of the Acer­ra fam­i­ly and their 12-mem­ber all-broth­er base­ball team. Base­ball fans espe­cial­ly will love this heart­felt telling of the family’s tra­vails and tri­umphs, both on the field and off, but the expert­ly told fam­i­ly sto­ry offers some­thing for every­one. The text and art work togeth­er beau­ti­ful­ly to bring the his­tor­i­cal peri­od to life.

A PLACE FOR BATS by Melis­sa Stew­art (Peachtree)
Okay, I have to admit that I have a bit of a bat pho­bia. On a ratio­nal lev­el, I know they’re help­ful and I’m glad they’re out there, but I real­ly don’t like hav­ing to think about them. Stew­art does an excel­lent job of rais­ing aware­ness about the impor­tance of bats as well as offer­ing ways peo­ple can help them thrive. The fas­ci­nat­ing illus­tra­tions are real­is­tic and not “cute-ified,” which did make me squirm a lit­tle, but Stewart’s text com­pen­sates by cre­at­ing sym­pa­thy for the crea­tures. Even as an adult read­er, I learned a lot about bats. This book would make a good sci­ence read-aloud for preschool and ear­ly ele­men­tary grades. And maybe those kids won’t devel­op an irra­tional bat pho­bia like mine!

ANNIE AND HELEN by Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son (Schwartz and Wade)
I love Deb­o­rah Hopkinson’s work, and the sto­ry of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sul­li­van, has always fas­ci­nat­ed me, so I was excit­ed to see this one in the nom­i­na­tion list. It didn’t dis­ap­point. Told spar­ing­ly and through pri­ma­ry sources, it focus­es on the ear­ly rela­tion­ship between the two women and on Sullivan’s strug­gles to break through Keller’s bar­ri­ers. The art adds a beau­ti­ful, his­tor­i­cal feel to the text, and the book ends on a tri­umphant note with Keller’s first writ­ten let­ter home.

BON APPETIT! by Jessie Hart­land (Schwartz and Wade)
This is a deli­cious biog­ra­phy of Julia Child! Although a tad over­whelm­ing and busy at first glance, the art and text quick­ly draw read­ers in and hook them, and read­ing it becomes a reward­ing adven­ture. Hart­land uses ener­gy, humor, and com­pas­sion to fol­low Child’s life sto­ry from child­hood on in a style that mim­ics her per­son­al­i­ty and how she lived her life. Jam-packed with facts and enter­tain­ing details, this longer pic­ture book with fas­ci­nate old­er pic­ture-book readers.

November is PiBoIdMo!

Picture Book Idea Month link

For many writ­ers, Novem­ber is Nation­al Nov­el Writ­ing Month (NaNoW­riMo), a month-long com­mit­ment to cre­ativ­i­ty where­in writ­ers turn off their inner crit­ics and pound out a com­plete 50,000-word nov­el in 30 days. I’ve seen the results, and it’s noth­ing short of amaz­ing. A self-imposed dead­line can be very moti­vat­ing, espe­cial­ly when shared with others!
Alas, how could pic­ture-book writ­ers join in the fun and enthu­si­asm? I sup­pose you could try to ham­mer out 100 500-word pic­ture books in a month, but writ­ing 100 dif­fer­ent sto­ries, even if they’re short, is a very dif­fer­ent beast than writ­ing just one long one. It may not take long to write the first draft of a pic­ture book, but it can take a very long time to find one real­ly great pic­ture-book idea (and we won’t even talk about revisions!).
Last Feb­ru­ary, I par­tic­i­pat­ed in a month-long pic­ture-book writ­ing marathon, where we chal­lenged our­selves to write 26 pic­ture books in 28 days, and it was a fan­tas­tic expe­ri­ence. In fact, two man­u­scripts from that expe­ri­ence are very close to being final drafts ready for sub­mis­sion. Of course, that means there were 24 that weren’t so great, rang­ing from “might be worth work­ing on” to “total stinkers” (lots more in that cat­e­go­ry, to be sure), but still, I feel it was well worth the time–and a ton of fun!
Per­haps an even bet­ter idea, and cer­tain­ly less intim­i­dat­ing now that I’ve done the pic­ture-book marathon, is Tara Lazar’s Pic­ture Book Idea Month (PiBoId­Mo). Sign up starts today, right here!

Picture Book Idea Month link

If you’ve ever even thought about writ­ing pic­ture books, I urge you to try this chal­lenge! So far, almost 300 peo­ple have signed up, so there will be cama­raderie. Tara will fea­ture dai­ly inspi­ra­tion and guest blog­gers to help keep us going. And, as if that was­n’t enough, there will be PRIZES: signed books, pic­ture-book man­u­script cri­tiques, orig­i­nal art by pic­ture-book illus­tra­tors, book jew­el­ry, hand-made jour­nals, vin­tage chil­dren’s books, and feed­back from one of three lit­er­ary agents!
I’ll hope you’ll join me, Tara, and hun­dreds of oth­er pic­ture books writ­ers for this year’s PiBoId­Mo. Please let me know in the com­ments if you’re participating!