More photos to use as story starters! Using images can help writers become unstuck or at least play a little with words. Maybe the photo is a setting, or place your character in one of the pictures and see what happens. Maybe you want to use one of the pictures as a way to connect to a memory or event. Let me know if you use one and if it helps you with your writing!
As I head down to Springfield for the New England SCBWI conference I thought I'd post some pictures that could be used as inspiration. Using photographs as prompts is one of my favorite activities to use with kids to help generate ideas and stories.
What stories do you see? So many possibilities...
I am always looking for ways that real life mirrors the writing process for me. I came across one the other day that is sticking (pun intended) with me. My son is doing a project for school on trees and as part of that project we attempted to make our own maple syrup. Throughout the process, I was reminded of writing over and over again.
Before you even start you have to identify the right trees. It’s way easier to do this if you identified the trees when it’s summer or fall when you can go by the leaves. Then you tap the trees when the weather starts to shift, when the nights stay cold and the days get warmer so the sap starts to flow. You drill into the tree, deep enough to access the sap but not too deep to damage the tree. After the trees are tapped, you wait as the bucket fills, drip by drip by drip. Once you’ve collected enough sap, you filter it to get out any large impurities, bugs, dirt etc..
And then you boil. It takes hours. You have to watch it make sure it’s not boiling over. You have to watch it to make sure it doesn’t evaporate completely away. You have to watch it to know when to combine 3 pots down to 2 and then finally down to one. As it boils, the sap changes to become darker, until it’s finally a deep amber. It thickens from the consistency of water to syrup. You have to watch it check the temperature to know the exact moment it changes from sap to syrup. When we were almost done boiling, we kept asking each other. Do you think it’s ready? How do we know it’s ready? Could it be ready? And ultimately, we had to take the risk that it was ready, filter one last time and put it into jars.
When I write, I have to pick the right idea off my list. I can’t just choose any idea, it’s got to be something special. Then I have to let the idea sit until it’s just the right time to start writing, if I start before the idea is formed it won’t work on the page. My ideas have to be ready so the words can start dripping. Timing is everything.
And then I write word by word by word. It’s slow going.
It takes a lot of patience.
Writing takes a lot of patience. Revising takes even more patience. When writing picture books, you have to take a giant idea and distill it down to its essence. Boil down that story to the 400 sweetest most important words.
When I write, I have to filter and boil and boil and filter until I find my story. My story changes from one big loose fragment of an idea to something where every word matters, it changes into something that has flavor and sweetness and warmth and color.
What was once 5 gallons of sap became a little less than 20 ounces of syrup. It may not look like much, but I bet it’s going to taste awesome on some waffles.
In between the two biggest winter storms the Northeast has seen this year, I scooted down to #ny17scwbi. Friday night was filled with dinner and a tour of the Google offices with my cousin who works there. What a creative and thoughtfully designed space! The views of the city were amazing, even though we couldn’t go out onto the terraces because of the snow...
On Saturday morning, I settled into the back of the ballroom ready to listen and learn. Bryan Collier did not disappoint with the opening keynote. I’ve heard Bryan speak several times (and even have a gorgeous print from Dave the Potter hanging in my house) and each time his thoughtfulness and care blow me away. My takeaway from his speech was to think about all the kids I’m writing for and where I am creating “space for them to dream” and where “their invisible holes” are. I want to both create space and acknowledge and recognize those holes.
I always love listening to people talk about their art and so the picture book panel with Andrea Beatty (Iggy Peck, Architect), Andrea Davis Pinkney (A Poem for Peter), Greg Pizzoli (The Watermelon Seed) and Daniel Salmieri (Dragons Love Tacos) was terrific. I think my favorite quote from that was when Daniel Salmieri said “I mess up so much more than I get it right.” It’s what I needed to hear that day.
Sylvie Frank from Paula Wiseman Books talked about picture book pacing and I left that breakout session wanting to make sure that things are balanced in my writing. I can’t make things too heavy for one character if I’m mirroring dialogue and behavior; it has to be balanced. And those untidy endings are okay, which made me wonder if my endings are too neat...
I could listen to Sara Pennypacker talk all day. She is so knowledgeable about writing and book making and kids. She spoke a lot about making the reader do some work and not letting it all be told in the words. Let the reader fill in the gaps, they can do it.
Tahereh Mafi’s speech was too beautiful to even take notes during. I found myself on the verge of tears the whole time. Thank you Ms. Mafi.
At the Gala Saturday night, New England was well represented. Since I’ve been coming to these conferences for a while now, it’s nice to see familiar faces. After the Gala, I was able to go out to dinner with my agent and some other clients of the agency. (It feels a little surreal being able to say that.) I felt very “New York” going to a restaurant that you wouldn’t know existed until you walked in the door. I love the city at night. There is something about all those lights and people that just feels magical to me.
Sunday morning started off with inspiring words from both Jane Yolen and Tomie dePaola. Tomie told us to “Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read everything. Read anything.” Also to, “Find the joy of compassion. The joy of creating something that didn’t exist before… and the courage to do it in the first place.”
I snuck out early and missed my last workshop and Sara Pennypacker’s keynote hoping to beat the storm home. Alas, I didn’t. For some reason the New York SCBWI conference never fails to throw me a curve ball. I had to stop halfway home because the roads were just too bad. It’s okay though, I got to spend more time with writing friends. Even with the unexpected delay, the New York SCBWI conference delivered on inspiration, connections and questions that I needed to ask myself about my writing and creating.
Being part of a crowd of over 1,000 people all thinking about writing and children’s literature never ceases to awe me. Most important thing from this weekend? Books matter. Stories matter. Writing matters.
On Friday, I am going to throw my bags into the car and set off to New York for the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter Conference. I’ll swing through western Massachusetts to pick up a writing friend who has become a friend friend. And I’ll navigate the streets of NYC before finding our hotel (hopefully GPS will be my hero). I am excited for this weekend. Let me tell you why.
My first SCBWI conference was seven years ago. I registered on a whim while holding a new baby in my arms. Maybe it wasn’t really a whim though, I had googled SCBWI for the past 6 months at all hours of the night (since I was awake all hours of the night with a newborn). I had always wanted to write for kids and had decided to do something about it. People kept mentioning SCBWI to me and I had finally worked up the courage to check it out.
I arrived in New York with my husband and tiny baby to stay in the world’s smallest hotel room on the coldest weekend of the winter (and I’m from New Hampshire). I had no idea what I had signed myself up for. In retrospect, I should have attended one of the smaller regional conferences first, but there I was in New York City with 1,000 other people who wanted to write for children. Even though I was completely overwhelmed, I was hooked. The speakers, the knowledge, the community, everything about it made me want more.
Fast-forward to a few years later, I went to New York again to the winter conference. This time with some writer friends in tow, I wouldn’t be so alone. I just wasn’t aware that the Norovirus had struck my household and after arriving in the city came down with extreme shakes and fever and stomach pains for 24 hours. So if you were at the conference circa 2012, I’m apologize if you left with an unexpected souvenir! Even though I had to keep retreating to my hotel room to lie down, I still left inspired and motivated.
This year, seven years after attending my first ever SCBWI winter conference in NYC, I am headed back again without new babies, without a stomach virus (fingers crossed), without that deer-in-the-headlights look. I am headed back knowing some familiar faces in the crowd and knowing 200% more about children’s literature and the publishing world.
I still google “what to wear to a children’s literature conference” and “what to bring to a SCBWI conference” obsessively just in case things have changed though. In case there are other people like me out there, they haven’t. Wear what you feel comfortable and good in. Be yourself. The Gala Dinner does not require a cocktail dress. Bring your notebook to scribble notes and ideas in. And, yes, still bring business cards even though it’s 2017. Most importantly, bring your love of children’s books and you’ll have something in common with everyone in the room.