Feb 25, 2014

Generating New Ideas

In the past few months, I have been focused on revising several picture book manuscripts and an in-depth rewrite of a longer chapter book. The picture books are polished and the chapter book is *almost* where it needs to be—a few more weeks, and it should be finished. Next on my list is to finish the first draft of another longer chapter book, which I have already researched, outlined, and written the opening chapters for.  

I have a lot going on writing-wise, and am enjoying every minute I get to spend working. As I focus on my longer projects, however, I like to have shorter projects to work on when I need to clean out the “mental cobwebs” before a big edit, or just to be able to come back to a longer w.i.p. with fresh eyes. But for the first time in years, I don’t have several picture book ideas floating around in my head!
I know that I am super focused right now on my longer projects, so I keep telling myself that more ideas will come…and I know they will. But in the meantime, I am looking for ways to generate ideas. Here is what I have come up with so far:

Carefully comb through old writing or “idea” files. I know that I have at least one old idea that never panned out. Maybe this will be a possibility!

Visit a library or book store and spend some time just browsing. Too often when I am at a book store, I am looking for something specific and don’t have the time to just be there.

Revisit favorite children’s books. What makes you love them? What did you love to read as a child?

Think about any special interests or hobbies that you have. Could any of these become a nonfiction book or provide the spark for a new story?

Search for “current needs” lists. Sometimes magazine editors, school librarians, teacher organizations, etc. will share what readers or teachers are looking for. If current needs match with your interests, then you can run with it!
Have a chat with a writing friend and bounce some ideas off each other. Sometimes just talking with a like-minded writer will bring ideas to life!

Pay attention to your dreams, and keep a notebook by your bed. Yes, like when you are sleeping. My middle grade w.i.p. began from a very vivid dream I had one night, but I didn’t have a pencil anywhere nearby so I ended up scribbling everything in eyeliner on a random piece of paper—never again will I let this happen! Stephenie Meyer shares here about a dream that proved tremendously successful for her career.  
Spend some time around children. Kids provide the best inspiration, hands down! The main character in one of my picture books was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” She immediately retorted, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall and started to read. At that moment, a character was born!   

READ children’s books. Lots of them!
READ children's magazines, as well. If you do not write for children's magazines, why not give it a try? Often the process of writing articles or short stories can spark ideas for authors.
Relax, and have faith in yourself as a writer. I firmly believe that as writers, we go through seasons much like the natural world. There are times when we bloom with new ideas (spring), and then we carefully cultivate these ideas until they are thriving and strong (summer). Then we edit, polish, and submit our completed work (fall). Finally, we take a deep breath, rest, and wait for the blooming to begin again (winter). Spring is right around the corner!

This is a short list, I know, but it got my wheels turning. If you’d like to share about how you generate ideas, please comment below. Happy Writing!

Feb 14, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Presidential Poetry

Thanks to Linda at Teacher Dance for hosting Poetry Friday today!

* * * * *

Happy Valentine’s Day! I am spending today at home with my family, four days into our snow week/Presidents’ Day long weekend, which has turned into 6 ½ days of no school for my boys. Our area of South Carolina had 8-10 inches of snow this week, and my kids—and my husband and I—have had a blast! That path behind our house that had pitifully little snow a few weeks ago (that I wrote about here) now looks like this:

This morning we were out forging a sled track in our iced-over back yard, which is why my Poetry Friday post is a bit later than usual. But I came inside to share some poetry written by two of our country’s most illustrious presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Until this week, I had NO idea that both of these presidents were poets. To celebrate both of their birthdays this month, here are two that I found interesting:

George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington’s two surviving poems were written during his teenage years, in the late 1740s. The one I’ve chosen to share today is an uncompleted acrostic poem for Frances Alexander, an acquaintance of young Washington’s for whom he (obviously) harbored special feelings. It is especially suited for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

For more about Washington’s poetry, click here

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865 )
More of Lincoln’s poetry has survived, and he was even a member of a poetry society in the late 1830s. Around 1846, Lincoln wrote the following poem in a series of letters to his friend, Andrew Johnston of Quincy, Illinois. It is a poignant poem about the area where he was raised:

My Childhood Home I See Again

My childhood's home I see again, 
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.

You can read the rest of this poem here.

In 1863, Lincoln wrote a very different kind of poem about the North’s victory at Gettysburg (notice the title):

Gen. Lees invasion of the North written by himself--

In eighteen sixty three, with pomp,
and mighty swell,
Me and Jeff's Confederacy, went
forth to sack Phil-del,
The Yankees they got arter us, and 
giv us particular hell,
And we skedaddled back again,
And didn't sack Phil-del.

For more information on poetry by Lincoln, please click here.

I hope you've enjoyed this bit of presidential poetry! Happy Valentine's Day, Happy Presidents' Day, and Happy Writing!

Feb 10, 2014

My Writer’s Journey, Encouraging a Love of Reading and Writing in Children, and a Blog Birthday Celebration!

One year ago today, I posted my very first blog post. I started blogging to share my writer’s journey, and it has been a lot of fun! My favorite thing about blogging, however, has been the new friends I’ve made along the way, and the ideas, stories, and support readers have shared. Thank you to everyone who stops by to read, and to all of you who have taken the time to respond. It is truly a gift to have such a wonderful community of writers and readers to exchange ideas with!

To celebrate my blog’s first birthday, I have a special guest post to share, written by Dr. Ernice Bookout. In her long career, Ernice has been an elementary school teacher and a college education professor, she’s served as a Title I teacher, and she’s worked as a Reading Recovery® teacher and teacher leader. She has a PhD in literacy and is one of the foremost experts in reading instruction and education that I know. And she also happens to be my mom!

When Mom asked me several months ago if she could write a guest post for my blog, I said sure—there is SO much we can learn from her, trust me. So for today’s post, she’s written “an open letter to my daughter the writer,” where she shares the beginning of my writer’s journey and everything she did to encourage a love of reading and writing in my sisters and me from a very young age. It was fun to take this “walk down memory lane,” and to reflect on the little things that make us who we are. (Warning: there is a definitely a bit of “mom bias” in here, but moms are always the biggest cheerleaders, right?☺)

* * * * *
Dear Becky,

Your recent excitement as you anticipated attending a writer’s conference reminded me how much you’ve always loved stories and books and reading, and how you’ve evolved as a writer throughout your life. Reading your blog entries continues to remind me of your lifelong fascination with words and poetry. The following is a brief overview of a few of the many milestones you’ve passed on your journey to becoming a master weaver of words.

Who could have foreseen how you would come to love the way words blend together into images and ideas? Not I! I only knew that as an undergraduate English major and teacher of reading to young children, I wanted my brand new baby girl to learn to love language and reading as much as I do. So, we read poetry. ALL THE TIME!  Before you were born, and as soon as we brought you home, I read to you. We started by reading through tattered, orange Childcraft poetry volumes several times. You had your favorites, early on. Your very favorite poem was “The Cupboard,” by Walter DeLaMare:

I know a little cupboard,
With a teeny tiny key,
And there's a jar of Lollypops
For me, me, me.

It has a little shelf, my dear,
As dark as dark can be,
And there's a dish of Banbury Cakes
For me, me, me.

I have a small fat grandmamma,
With a very slippery knee,
And she's the Keeper of the Cupboard
With the key, key, key.

And when I'm very good, my dear,
As good as good can be,
There's Branbury Cakes, and Lollypops
For me, me, me.

Even before you could put two or three words together into sentences, you were gleefully completing the last words of each line when we read this poem. Along with an appreciation for words, you also developed a lifelong love of beautiful sounds, in the form of the music you heard on a regular basis. Your Dad would hold you in his arms at the piano and play Chopin nocturnes. I firmly believe this contributed to your remarkable auditory and verbal memory.   

Somewhere along the way you learned to read, all by yourself, without being formally taught. Don’t ask me how, because I was not aware you were reading until I went to a kindergarten open house, where you excitedly read an entire chart story to me. When I asked your teacher about this secret skill, she informed me you were reading when you came to school. When I asked you about this, you explained you thought I would “make a big deal out of it!”  (I personally think you were remembering my in-depth linguistic study on your younger sister’s language acquisition when you were four—perhaps you didn’t wish to be the subject of my graduate research papers.) 

Around kindergarten or first grade, you began writing in earnest. You made up stories and engaged in therapeutic writing activities. You created fanciful adventures with Candy Cane, an enormous pastel candy striped dinosaur who lived in our back yard. You even inspired me to write a story about him for my graduate creative writing course, called “The Coming of Candy Cane,” all about how I didn’t believe he was real, and how you proved me wrong. Then, when our kitten was run over, I suggested you and your sister think of ten good things about our kitten (based on the book The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst, the story of a family who found comfort when they lost a beloved cat by thinking of ten good things about the cat). By late that afternoon, the front of our house was covered with chart paper, all dedicated to the memory of that precious kitten.

When we moved from Florida to North Carolina you kept on writing. You were blessed with wonderful elementary school teachers who fostered your writing by actually allowing you to write instead of doing mindless worksheets and repetitive textbook exercises. You kept on writing at home, publishing The Bookout Neighborhood News, with such headlines as, “Mom Burns Toast, Smells Burny-burn.” Sometime during these years you informed me you planned to publish a book someday, and I, of course, believed you.

For three years at Crest Junior High School you reported on school news for the local weekly paper. Among other things, you helped your teacher edit a cookbook of stories about family recipes, one of my all time favorite Christmas gifts. You kept on writing all through high school and college and in the years beyond. You even majored in English at N.C. State, and while there you volunteered as a writer for North Carolina Historical Preservation Society publications. You kept on writing when you taught in Florida and when your boys were babies and as they grew. An early article, published in Fort Worth Child when the boys were four, chronicled in detail “A Day in the Life of a Fort Worth Area Mom.” 

You kept on writing when you moved from Ft. Worth, to Houston, to South Carolina. Through all the stages in your writing journey you have kept your focus on your ultimate destination with creativity, consistently, and perseverance.      

So, Right On, My Girl! And Write On and On and On….



Feb 5, 2014

My Interview on Joan's NEVER GIVE UP Blog

Please check out my interview on Joan Y. Edwards’ NEVER GIVE UP blog. Thank you, Joan, for giving me an opportunity to “visit” with your readers! = )