On fear, and how writing is like a guitar

Fear is fun­ny. Not fun­ny, real­ly. Mad­den­ing, frus­trat­ing, debilitating.
Ortega acoustic electric mini bassAfter a busy month or so, I had­n’t had time to prac­tice my bass gui­tar at all. I want­ed to. I missed it. So I took it out of the case and sat it next to my chair so it would be easy to grab when­ev­er I had a few free min­utes. And from there it mocked me. I was afraid to pick it up. Afraid I’d for­got­ten every­thing. Afraid I would suck.
Writ­ing is like that, too. I think the writ­ers who advise oth­ers to “write every day” do so for this rea­son most of all. The longer we go with­out doing some­thing the more room there is for doubt and excus­es, so we go even longer with­out doing it. It’s a vicious cycle that can be dif­fi­cult to break out of.
Some­times, the miss­ing doing the thing becomes greater than the fear and over­comes it. Oth­er times, we force our­selves past the fear. We have been here before and can see it for what it is.
I final­ly picked up the gui­tar today. I can still play. In fact, I think I played bet­ter today than I have in months. It felt joy­ous, both the abil­i­ty to make music and the let­ting go of the fear.
Soon, my sched­ule will allow me to get back to writ­ing again, too. And I am not afraid. In fact, I’m look­ing for­ward to it.
What goals are you avoid­ing because of fear? Per­haps it’s time to begin.

Author interview with Tara Dairman and book #giveaway!

The Great Hibernation cover
A very hap­py book birth­day to Tara Dair­man and her lat­est mid­dle-grade nov­el, The Great Hiber­na­tion! This sto­ry has mys­tery, pol­i­tics, com­ing of age, sci­ence, and a healthy dose of girl pow­er, and it’s avail­able NOW from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Ran­dom House. I loved it, and I high­ly rec­om­mend it!
As a spe­cial treat, Tara agreed to do an inter­view for us today. So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s hear from Tara!
LAT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
TD: A wide vari­ety, I hope! Fans of my All Four Stars series should enjoy the humor and the food­ie ele­ments that those books share with The Great Hiber­na­tion. But I think that Hiber­na­tion will also draw in read­ers who like mys­tery, zany/madcap adven­ture, and a bit of polit­i­cal con­tent, too. Plus, I just have to say, my mom real­ly likes it. She pret­ty much told me it’s her favorite of all my books. 🙂
LAT: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I also real­ly loved this one. How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion? What were your incen­tives for stick­ing with it?
TD: I first got the idea in 2013… from a dream! In the dream, two kids were out in freez­ing open water in a tiny boat, try­ing to flag down a big­ger boat to help them because some­thing had gone ter­ri­bly wrong back on shore in their town. When I woke up, I knew I had to find out who those kids were and what had gone wrong. (And that dream inspired one of my favorite scenes in the whole book.)
LAT: I remem­ber that scene! There are some great details and obser­va­tions in that one, as well as oth­ers. It seems like a ton of research must have gone into this book to get those details right. Can you tell us about that? How was that dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous books? Do you think you’ll get to reuse any of that research in future stories?
TD: Work­ing on The Great Hiber­na­tion did give me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to research a lot of fun top­ics, from sheep farm­ing to Thai cui­sine to liv­er func­tion. I was lucky to have some expert beta and sen­si­tiv­i­ty read­ers look at the man­u­script and answer my ques­tions at var­i­ous points to that I could make those details as authen­tic as pos­si­ble. As for the small town of St. Polo­nius-on-the-Fjord (where the book is set), it’s loose­ly inspired by the north­ern coast of Ice­land. I had the plea­sure of trav­el­ing through that area a few years ago, so when I was draft­ing, I did have a sharp pic­ture in my head of what the town and its envi­rons would look like.
TD: I kind of doubt I’ll ever get to reuse any of my research, but if I write anoth­er book in which a sheep needs to go down a stair­case… well, I know now that he can. (With a lit­tle help!)
LAT: Were there any sur­pris­es or stum­bling blocks along the way to the fin­ished draft? How did you end up deal­ing with that?
TD: I strug­gled to get the open­ing chap­ter right for this book. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion and back­sto­ry to con­vey, plus a lot of char­ac­ters to intro­duce, and of course I didn’t want things to feel info-dumpy. I start­ed over from scratch sev­er­al times—and then, after I sold the book for pub­li­ca­tion, I threw the whole first chap­ter out and rewrote it all over again. Luck­i­ly, my beta read­ers, edi­tors, and I all real­ly loved the final ver­sion, so I got there in the end!
LAT: Oh, I can cer­tain­ly relate to that! Per­sis­tence is the key, right? To that point, though, how do you decide when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent?
TD: When I lit­er­al­ly can­not fath­om look­ing at it for a sin­gle sec­ond more. 🙂 (That is usu­al­ly after I’ve done at least two major revi­sions on my own based on cri­tique part­ner feed­back, though. My agent nev­er sees my ear­li­est drafts!)
Tara Dairman author photo
LAT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this par­tic­u­lar book?
TD: I’ve learned that, just because a book doesn’t pitch well, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good book. My agent and I orig­i­nal­ly tried to sell this book on pro­pos­al, and the feed­back we got from edi­tors was that they liked the sam­ple chap­ters but thought that the pro­posed plot sound­ed… well, a lit­tle crazy. It turned out I just had to write the whole book for them to see that I could pull the crazy plot off.
LAT: Wow! It sounds like you took quite a leap of faith with this one. (And I’m so glad you did!) Was that your tough­est moment on the path to pub­li­ca­tion or were there oth­ers, and how did you make it over that hurdle?
TD: I’d still say that fin­ish­ing the first draft of my first book (All Four Stars) was the hard­est thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d dreamed of being a nov­el­ist since child­hood, but until I actu­al­ly fin­ished writ­ing a book, I didn’t know whether I could do it or not! And that one lit­tle book took me years upon years. Writ­ing “the end,” though—definitely one of the best moments of my life.
LAT: What tricks have you learned for bal­anc­ing your writ­ing time with the demands of keep­ing up with the indus­try, pro­mot­ing exist­ing work, tak­ing care of your home and fam­i­ly, per­son­al recre­ation and self-care, etc.?
TD: Oy vey. I’m still learn­ing! I have bad days and bet­ter days. What I have learned over the last few years is that “bal­ance” is going to look dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the month, the week, the day. There are going to be stretch­es when I’m writ­ing almost every day and real­ly in that cre­ative zone. And there are going to be stretch­es when a book release is loom­ing, or a new baby is get­ting born, and I don’t do any cre­ative work at all for weeks or months. And that’s okay! I’m not a great mul­ti­tasker any­way, so I’d rather real­ly focus on what­ev­er is call­ing to me most in the moment—which is a priv­i­lege that I know not every author can afford.
TD: In short, I guess I’d say that bal­ance has become a long game for me, rather than some­thing I’m able to accom­plish on a dai­ly basis.
LAT: Excel­lent advice. I sus­pect that know­ing it’s a long game is the #1 secret to find­ing that ever-elu­sive “bal­ance.” So, what are you work­ing on right now?
TD: I do have a mid­dle-grade WIP that I’m hop­ing to get back to once The Great Hiber­na­tion is prop­er­ly launched into the world. But I’m also hav­ing a baby in Novem­ber, so once he or she arrives, my focus will like­ly be off writ­ing for at least a few months.
LAT: Con­grat­u­la­tions! I’m def­i­nite­ly look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more about that adven­ture (and see­ing pictures)!! 
LAT: Before I let you go, what do you wish I would’ve asked you that I didn’t, and why?
TD: I wish you’d asked me “What are some of your oth­er favorite recent mid­dle-grade books?” There are SO many good ones out this year! My answer would be:

  • Con­tem­po­rary: Sat­ur­days with Hitch­cock by Ellen Wittlinger
  • Non­fic­tion: Poi­son by Sarah Albee; Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son and Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Mys­tery: The World’s Great­est Detec­tive by Car­o­line Carlson
  • Humor: This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Made­lyn Rosenberg
  • His­tor­i­cal: Bob­by Lee Clare­mont and the Crim­i­nal Ele­ment by Jean­nie Mob­ley; The Last Grand Adven­ture by Rebec­ca Behrens (com­ing 3/18)
  • Fan­ta­sy: The Changelings and In a Dark Land by Christi­na Soontornvat

TD: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
LAT: Thanks for the shout-out for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!Tara. (I swear, I did NOT put her up to that!) And thank you so much for vis­it­ing today and answer­ing all of my ques­tions. I’ll be rec­om­mend­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion far and wide, and I wish you much con­tin­u­ing suc­cess in ALL of your endeavors! 
Find out more about The Great Hiber­na­tion by Tara Dair­man hereAnd leave a com­ment below for a chance to win your own copy!

UPDATE: The give­away win­ner is Jen­naO! Con­grat­u­la­tions, JennaO!!

Upcoming appearance: Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Tweens

I’m busy doing lots of pri­vate talks and appear­ances at schools and con­fer­ences this spring, but here’s one that is open to the pub­lic (espe­cial­ly tweens)!

On April 20, I’ll be pre­sent­ing a work­shop on non­fic­tion writ­ing for tweens (ages 8–12) in Both­ell, WA. Here’s the description:

Where do you find ideas and how do you decide what to write about? How do you get from there to the fin­ished prod­uct? This work­shop, pre­sent­ed by award-win­ning non­fic­tion author Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son, will answer those ques­tions and more! Thomp­son will explain the process of writ­ing com­pelling non­fic­tion, includ­ing research, plan­ning, draft­ing, revis­ing and edit­ing. The pre­sen­ta­tion will be inter­ac­tive and all par­tic­i­pants will have a chance to craft an engag­ing non­fic­tion piece of their own.

For more infor­ma­tion and to reg­is­ter, please vis­it the King Coun­ty Library Sys­tem’s event page. I hope I’ll see you there!

The writing process blog tour is here!

You may have seen this meme going around on var­i­ous author and/or illus­tra­tor blogs where peo­ple answer ques­tions about their writ­ing process. I’ve been enjoy­ing read­ing oth­er peo­ple’s answers and learn­ing from their thoughts about process, so when I was tagged by my tal­ent­ed author/illustrator friend, Jen­nifer K. Mann, I decid­ed to add a post about my process here. Enjoy!

Jennifer K. Mann
Jenn and some feath­ered friends

Jenn has been on a roll late­ly! Her first illus­trat­ed book, TURKEY TOT, writ­ten by George Shan­non, just came out last Octo­ber. TWO SPECKLED EGGS, her first author/illustrator debut, just came out in April. And she’s just fin­ish­ing up the final art for I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, which will come out next year. You can read about Jen­n’s writ­ing and illus­trat­ing process here. Thanks for tag­ging me, Jenn! Let the Q&A begin…

Read more

Creativity Lost… and Found!

For var­i­ous rea­sons (health, chron­ic pain, an aging pet, vol­un­teer com­mit­ments, and the Pacif­ic North­west weath­er), I’ve spent the win­ter pret­ty much chained to my desk. When­ev­er I had a spare moment I tried to force myself to sit down and write—right now! As you can prob­a­bly guess, I was supreme­ly unpro­duc­tive. And frustrated.
You know how if you keep doing what you’ve been doing you’ll keep get­ting what you’ve been get­ting? Well, today I decid­ed to try some­thing dif­fer­ent. I shrunk my man­u­script (with the gap­ing hole in the mid­dle) and my research notes so that they’d fit on one page each, I grabbed a pen­cil, and I went for a walk.
Wouldn’t you know it, my cre­ativ­i­ty was hid­ing in the woods! I found her right about here:

Once I found her, the man­u­script prac­ti­cal­ly wrote itself. And I got to walk (hooray, exer­cise!) in the sunshine.
We even stopped to make a few new friends on the way home…

Sheep closeup
A sheep, one day before shearing.


Interview: Darcy Pattison on Writing WISDOM

Last week I post­ed this review of Dar­cy Pat­ti­son’s mov­ing new pic­ture book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS. Today, Dar­cy stops by to dis­cuss it!

LT: Hi, Dar­cy! I’m so excit­ed to have you vis­it. Can you tell me how you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about Wisdom?
DP: I have been inter­est­ed in writ­ing more nature/science relat­ed books, so a cou­ple times a month, I read the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice blog at http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/, just trolling for top­ics. After the earth­quake and tsuna­mi last year, I saw infor­ma­tion on the old­est wild bird in the world, who sur­vived the tsuna­mi and had to learn more.
LT: Although you’re tra­di­tion­al­ly pub­lished many times over, this book is pub­lished by your own inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. Con­grat­u­la­tions on what must have been a huge effort to pull every­thing togeth­er! Can you talk about your deci­sion to go that route with this book?
DP: I cre­at­ed the Mims House pub­lish­er to address time­ly sto­ries like that of Wis­dom. Tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers work on a very long lead time, often tak­ing two or three or four years to bring a pic­ture book to the mar­ket­place. With print-on-demand tech­nol­o­gy, I can do it much quick­er. For mar­ket­ing, I can shout very loud online, ‘Read all about it.’ Tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers will always hold the lion’s share of the mar­ket­place, but there’s also room for niche pub­lish­ers, sup­port­ed by new technologies.
LT: Can you tell us about Kit­ty Harvill’s illus­tra­tion process? How did she cap­ture Wis­dom in her art?
DP: The Fish and Wildlife ser­vice makes pho­tos avail­able as pub­lic domain mate­r­i­al at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/, so it was very easy to find images for Kit­ty to use as pho­to ref­er­ences as she did her watercolors.
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
DP: I was total­ly sur­prised that birds could still be lay­ing eggs at the age of 61. But Wis­dom just laid a new egg in Decem­ber, 2011.
LT: Are there any tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
DP: Talk to the source. When I real­ized I want­ed to write about Wis­dom, I went direct­ly to the biol­o­gist who lives and works on Mid­way Atoll, Pete Leary. He was invalu­able in giv­ing me infor­ma­tion and vet­ting the man­u­script. The oth­er tip is to dig deep­er. This sto­ry is excit­ing part­ly because of Wis­dom’s longevi­ty. I did a time­line of her life and times to under­stand what she has lived through. If I had only told the sto­ry of the tsuna­mi, it would­n’t have been as pow­er­ful as the sto­ry of over 60 years of survival.
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel
like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
DP: I have loved every part of Wis­dom’s sto­ry and chron­i­cling it for chil­dren. I take it one project at a time, and if I can say that I did the best job pos­si­ble, then I am hap­py. On my to-do list? Find­ing more equal­ly stir­ring tales about nature.
LT: What are you work­ing on now?
DP: My new book, DESERT BATHS (Syl­van Dell) comes out in August 2012. It’s a sto­ry about how desert ani­mals take a bath–lots of fun!
LT: What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
DP: I love to write.
LT: And it shows! It’s always inspir­ing and help­ful to get a “peak behind the cur­tain” of the writ­ers I admire. Thanks again, Darcy!
And, if you’d like to read an inter­view with the illus­tra­tor of WISDOM, Kit­ty Harvill, please click on over to this post at Archimedes Notebook.

Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls

photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana

A few weeks ago, I post­ed this review of Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls’ most recent book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH. Kel­ly was kind enough to fol­low up that review with an incred­i­ble inter­view about the book and her writ­ing career. Please help me wel­come author Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls!
photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana
LT:  Hi Kel­ly, and thank for com­ing! I guess I have to start with the obvi­ous, though I’m fair­ly con­fi­dent I know the answer from read­ing the book: Do you believe in Sasquatch?
KMH:  I do not believe, 100%, that Sasquatch is real. I tend to be skep­ti­cal by nature—the jour­nal­ist in me. But I believe there are some very con­vinc­ing bits of evi­dence that sug­gest SOMETHING is out there—an ani­mal we haven’t yet defined and don’t real­ly under­stand. Too many reli­able peo­ple have wit­nessed too many amaz­ing things to ignore them.
LT:  What was/were the hard­est things about research­ing and/or writ­ing this book? How did you deal with that?
KMH:  I want­ed to be sure my wit­ness­es and experts were seri­ous peo­ple, not peo­ple who want­ed fame or glo­ry. There is noth­ing wrong with fame or glo­ry, but I want­ed peo­ple who were fact-cen­tered, so that required some hard work. I think I found good inter­view sub­jects to meet that stan­dard. Hope so.
LT:  Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
KMH:  The fact that Scott Nel­son believes Sasquatch may have its own lan­guage absolute­ly blew my socks off. His rea­son­ing is so clear and log­i­cal, it almost make my head explode. If that’s true, that’s a rea­son to pro­tect the “maybe” primate.
LT:  Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
KMH:  I took a num­ber of the pho­tos, but a won­der­ful Sasquatch inves­ti­ga­tor named Paul Graves from Yaki­ma, WA, was extreme­ly gen­er­ous about shar­ing his field pho­tographs for the book. He is also a musi­cian who writes Sasquatch songs, and he’s fea­tured in the book. But he was very gen­er­ous, and I’m grateful.
LT: How do you man­age all of your research for a book like this? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
KMH:  I keep elab­o­rate, well-backed up com­put­er files about each sub­ject, each top­ic, each chap­ter, so I can find my notes with ease. And there are so many notes. I read a dozen books, did more than two dozen inter­views and col­lect­ed dozens of images for this book. It was hard but amaz­ing work. It’s what I love to do.
LT:  How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
KMH:  As my chil­dren have grown into adult­hood, I have been able to trav­el more to get my infor­ma­tion first-hand, rather than on the tele­phone. Hav­ing both field and phone time real­ly adds rich­ness to the books I write and the pre­sen­ta­tions I give.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing this par­tic­u­lar book over­all, and how long did it take to write the book? Is that typical?
KMH:  Most of my books take between three and five years to research, then anoth­er year to write. I don’t like to rehash mate­r­i­al that already exists. I like to present new infor­ma­tion when­ev­er pos­si­ble and that takes time and effort.
LT: How do you know when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent or editor?
KMH:  The book isn’t even close to done when I send it to my edi­tors or agent. It’s a pro­pos­al. It maps out how I see the book once it’s com­plete and gives us all a place to start. But the book evolves con­sid­er­ably as we work togeth­er as a time. I’m sell­ing a con­cept that will change and improve as we all work on it, and that’s the mag­ic of the edi­to­r­i­al process.
LT:  Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
KMH:  Watch for the top­ics that YOU find most engag­ing and con­sid­er offer­ing them up to young read­ers. Your excite­ment, your sense of won­der will show through every word you write and the kids will feel the human con­nec­tion. If you are not excit­ed about your top­ic, that lack of enthu­si­asm will be just as clear to the young read­ers. So write about things the excite you. You’ll give the kids a rea­son to be excit­ed, too.
LT:  I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
KMH:  I have learned that we for­get our human­i­ty when it comes to ani­mals at times. But we can also renew it. The more you know about even an unknown crea­ture, the hard­er it is to sim­ply dis­re­gard or dis­re­spect it. It’s like my pet chick­ens. I can eat grilled chick­en with­out a blink of an eye. I love chick­en din­ner. But I could nev­er even con­sid­er eat­ing my pet chick­ens. You work hard­er not to hurt the things you under­stand well. Knowl­edge, explo­ration, is the key to more love, less hate. That is con­firmed every time I write a book and share it with kids.
LT:  I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
KMH:  I used to yearn for the day when I’d win a major non­fic­tion book award. Years went by, and it did­n’t hap­pen. Then I start­ed meet­ing kids—many of them boys, but girls too—who loved my books, kids who said I was their favorite author. I start­ed hear­ing sto­ries about kids who clung to my books like life jackets—kids who drew com­fort from MY books, award-win­ning or not. After that starts to hap­pen reg­u­lar­ly, you real­ize awards are love­ly, but the real mea­sure of suc­cess are those read­ers and their abil­i­ty to feel a lit­tle less alone because of some­thing you’ve giv­en them. That’s how I mea­sure suc­cess. If I have made your child’s life a lit­tle kinder, a lit­tle safer, I am the luck­i­est writer on earth.
LT:  What do you like to do when you’re not research­ing and/or writing?
KMH:  I am always writ­ing, so that’s a hard ques­tion. I do a LOT of school vis­its, which I love. I paint, I meet with friends, I work for my friend Chris Crutch­er, I walk my dog and take care of my lizard. I sleep now and then, when time per­mits. : ) Life is crazy busy, but good.
LT:  What are you work­ing on now?
KMH:  I’m fin­ish­ing a book on ani­mal res­cues for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic called TIGER IN TROUBLE. I’m putting togeth­er anoth­er YA anthol­o­gy for Chron­i­cle Books—just got that news yes­ter­day. I am research­ing the his­to­ry of video games for a new book project. And I’m going to write a book on ghosts for Mill­brook. I have two oth­er pro­pos­als under con­sid­er­a­tion at Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, too, but they aren’t firm yet, so I bet­ter not talk about them.
LT:  What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
KMH:  That I don’t have a mean bone in my body, that I live to make life a lit­tle eas­i­er and kinder for the peo­ple I meet. I’d like them to know that I am exact­ly who I say I am, with no need for deceit or ani­mus. Life is too short for cru­el­ty and anger. Like the Bea­t­les said, all we REALLY need is love. I hope my human­i­ty shows, even in my quirky works of non­fic­tion for kids. Kids need love, most of all.
LT: Well, Kel­ly, I have LOVED inter­view­ing you! Thank you so much for so gen­er­ous­ly shar­ing your exper­tise and heart with us, in your books as well as on this blog. 
Stay tuned for an upcom­ing review of Kelly’s new book, ALIEN INVESTIGATION, com­ing from Lern­er Pub­lish­ing on April 1, 2012 (no fooling!).

6 Lessons Learned from Doing the Picture Book Marathon

Pic­ture Book Marathon 2011 Logo, by Nathan Hale

I did it. I wrote 26 brand-new pic­ture-book texts in the 28 days of Feb­ru­ary! Now that I’ve had some time to relax and reflect, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the experience.

I start­ed out with great gus­to, then stum­bled in the mid­dle and took a bunch of days off, but man­aged to sprint to the fin­ish to make up for lost time. I fin­ished the last one with exact­ly 12 min­utes to spare before the clock struck mid­night on the very last day. Talk about close. But, still, I did it!

And I am so glad I took on this chal­lenge. Not only do I have 26 bright, shiny new man­u­scripts (sev­er­al of which have real poten­tial right out of the gate), but I learned some much-need­ed lessons along the way. I’d thought I’d doc­u­ment there here for any­one think­ing about doing the chal­lenge, for any­one think­ing about writ­ing pic­ture books, or for my future self when­ev­er I need a reminder!

5 Lessons I Learned From the Pic­ture Book Marathon:

  • PB Marathon Les­son #1: When I set my mind to it, I can be a LOT more pro­duc­tive than I thought I could. I was find­ing stolen moments in the pick-up line at school, while wait­ing for kids to get out of lessons, scrib­bling on receipts at stop­lights, etc. I dis­cov­ered I have been wast­ing a lot of time on things like self-doubt, think­ing I need­ed a big chunk of unin­ter­rupt­ed time to write, or try­ing to fig­ure out the whole sto­ry before I start­ed writ­ing. I wrote more in this one month than I have in the past year. Yes, I was most­ly work­ing on revi­sions, but still–yipes! We need to keep the cre­ative wheels turn­ing, even when we’re focus­ing on more ana­lyt­i­cal tasks. This has unex­pect­ed ben­e­fits, like…
  • PB Marathon Les­son #2: Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty begets pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and pro­cras­ti­na­tion begets pro­cras­ti­na­tion. The more I wrote, the more I felt like writ­ing, AND it car­ried over into oth­er things as well. I man­aged to get some long-stand­ing to-do’s around the house done, sim­ply because I felt so super­charged about get­ting my books writ­ten! Typ­i­cal­ly I would­n’t let myself tack­le those kinds of chores, because I always felt like I should be writ­ing instead. But I often did­n’t do the writ­ing because it was so easy to get dis­tract­ed by lit­tle to-do’s and inter­rup­tions. So, every­thing would stag­nate. Now that I learned #1, it’s much eas­i­er to avoid the down­ward spi­ral of #2.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #3: As pro­duc­tive and ener­giz­ing as that month was, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber to recharge! I think I crashed in the mid­dle because I was writ­ing every day. It was fine on week­days, but on the week­ends I real­ly need­ed to get away from my com­put­er and play. Doing that and then feel­ing behind and rush­ing to catch up was­n’t help­ful either. So, out­side of the chal­lenge, I’ll try to be pro­duc­tive every week­day, and I’ll reserve the week­ends for rest­ing, read­ing, and spend­ing time with family.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #4: Writ­ing fast and short is the best way to cut to the heart of the sto­ry. I tend to over­think book ideas before I ever get to writ­ing the first word. And, if I do start writ­ing, I tend to be research dri­ven and over­ly wordy (which is the kiss of death for pic­ture books!). So, my first drafts usu­al­ly read like real­ly bad ency­clo­pe­dia entries, and then I spend all my revi­sion efforts try­ing to resus­ci­tate them and bring back the life that inspired me to write about them in the first place. The marathon forced me to just get it out there in all its pas­sion­ate chaos. It’s much eas­i­er, and more suc­cess­ful, to start with a strong heart and add the nec­es­sary limbs lat­er than it is to start with a bunch of limbs and try to find a place for the heart! The PB Marathon allowed me to final­ly get to the core of some big ideas I’ve been think­ing about for years but did­n’t know how to con­tain. I think this approach would also help me with longer projects, as a sort of outline/synopsis/summary to keep me on track as I flesh out the details.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #5: I need to work on end­ings! If I could work a cir­cu­lar end­ing, great. If not, though, all of my end­ings felt either rushed or drawn out or just plain trite and stu­pid. Clear­ly, I need some work here! So, I’m going to be launch­ing a major self-edu­ca­tion unit, study­ing the best of the best pic­ture books and their end­ings. Maybe I’ll post my dis­cov­er­ies here someday.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #6: Final­ly, the biggest, most impor­tant les­son learned: Despite my weak­ness with end­ings, I don’t total­ly suck! Okay, so not all of the 26 are going to end up on any­body’s award list (or even book­shelf), but that’s no sur­prise to anyone–least of all me. What I was­n’t expect­ing was to find a hand­ful of real gems. There are sev­er­al man­u­scripts in the pile that I love, can’t wait to revise, and know I will hap­pi­ly and con­fi­dent­ly sub­mit in the not-too-dis­tant future. And there are quite a few oth­ers that are, at the very least, a good idea worth pur­su­ing to see if I can devel­op it into some­thing sol­id. Very pleas­ant sur­pris­es indeed, and great con­fi­dence boost­ers besides.

After all those valu­able lessons, I would’ve felt like a win­ner even if I had­n’t com­plet­ed the 26 man­u­scripts. The whole expe­ri­ence was def­i­nite­ly worth­while for me. To my friends and fam­i­ly, thank you for the encour­age­ment and cama­raderie: they were a huge help, and I am extreme­ly grate­ful for your sup­port! To my amaz­ing and won­der­ful cri­tique group, thanks for wel­com­ing the del­uge of new man­u­scripts com­ing your way! And to those of you con­sid­er­ing the chal­lenge, DO IT! And let me know what YOU learn. 🙂

Halloween Word Challenge 2009!

Kim­ber­ly Bak­er, super­friend and mem­ber of the dynam­ic trio, has chal­lenged me to a war of words. She knows I need a swift kick in the *** to get a first draft down (espe­cial­ly of a fic­tion novel–gasp!), but she may not know just how com­pet­i­tive I can be. Even if I lose, though, I win, since it’s just the incen­tive I need to make some good progress before our amaz­ing fall Week­end on the Water retreat in November.
As part of the deal, we’re offer­ing our­selves up for pub­lic humil­i­a­tion… um, I mean, account­abil­i­ty. If you want to cheer us on (or scoff at me for my pathet­ic attempts), you can fol­low our progress here.