Posts Tagged ‘The ABCs of Writing for Children’

Finding the “Thread” in your Book Project

October 20, 2011

I’ve been working on the latest book of mine , researching and writing as I go along and I am very near the depth, the tie that binds all those loose threads together, and I know I’m close but I feel like I’m blindfolded; I’m waving my arms around, grasping wildly in the air for that thread.

My writing partner and I meet over breakfast to read and talk about our work, and I tell her I know I’m getting close, but it’s so frustrating not to find the words I need.  Once I get those words in a sentence I know the other clues will fall into place.   I feel like a detective trying to solve a mystery.  What am I missing? 

She tells me what she likes about the book.  Then it hits me.  The words come out in the sentence I need. 

“That’s it!” she says.  

“Thank you,” I say. 

Without our conversation, I wouldn’t have found it until much, much later . . . if at all. 

It reminds me when I was compiling The ABCs of Writing for Children, Thacher Hurd said that when an author writes a book, it’s really a community effort.  Sometimes the author has a writing group, a writing partner, an agent, one or more editors . . . so that by the time the book is finished, the community has created the art. 

I also recall other authors telling me it took years to discover their themes, or plots, or characters.  Time is your friend.  So don’t despair if it doesn’t all fall into place right away.  You may need to bounce ideas off of people.  And then you need it to simmer in your thought process for a while. 

The next day, when I awake, I get the next layer of depth.  It falls right into place with the words I had found yesterday.  Now I feel shock that it took so long for me to discover what was with me all along.  A past which was buried so deeply it didn’t occur me to even consider it.

And now, I forget who said it originally, I shall open a vein.

Young Writers

May 25, 2011

On Saturday,  May 21, the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch held it’s annual Young Writers Contest Banquet at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant in Pleasant Hill.  The twenty-seven award-winning students along with their teachers, family and friends were invited to eat the delicious banquet Tony and his efficient staff prepared, receive their cash, and their lovely awards created by Joanne Brown.

Guest speaker editorial agent and former Tricycle editor Abigail Samoun spoke about actually being an editor.  To the threatening sounds of  the music known from JAWS, we saw on the screen before us an actual room filled with slush pile manuscripts. (Yes, we WERE frightened!  We could have gotten smothered by those stacks of large manilla envelopes!)  The young writers discovered that slush refers to  manuscripts sent to the publisher without an agent.    The audience learned how busy editors really are, and found out it can take years for a manuscript to turn into an actual book and appear on bookstore or library shelves.

Congratulations to all of the winners of this contest, and to everyone who took the big step and risk of putting pen to paper and writing.  Each time you bare your soul on paper, it is a risk.  You are brave!   Congratulations to everyone who entered the contest.  Each time you do something brave like this, you learn and grow.  We hope if you are a Contra Costa middle school student next fall, you will enter your short stories, poems, and personal narratives again.  It doesn’t cost anything but the postage.  And you can start writing this summer!  Hope to see you at our FREE July 27 writing workshop at the Clayton Public Library!


On Tuesday, May 24, I visited Mrs. Laird’s fourth grade classroom and the students impressed me with their intelligent questions, comments and ease at writing.  The moment Mrs. Laird turned on classical music, the kids’ pens hit their paper and didn’t stop moving until the music came to an end. 

Wow!  Very cool!  Most classrooms I visit today don’t have time for writing, and when I ask them to pick up their pen to write, kids are plain stumped.  “How shall I begin?”  they may ask.  “What if I spell something wrong?”  They don’t realize that first drafts are the place to make spelling mistakes!  It’s okay!  It’s fine to be messy or to make a punctuation error.  In a first draft, you just want to WRITE! 

I was very proud of how well this class wrote, and how eager they were to share their writing.  It was wonderful how they included their personal thoughts and feelings in their words. 

At one point in my talk, I mention an author I interviewed for my book, The ABCs of Writing for ChildrenJane Yolen likes to say BIC is the most important rule for being a writer.  I agree!  What did the kids think BIC stood for?  They talked with partners and came up with some possibilities:

Brain in classroom

Butt in conversation         (Hmm.  This could be a funny story, but I’d hate to assign it . . .)

Butt idea chair

And finally, one group got the answer Jane came up with:  Butt in chair! 

How can you be a writer?  Sit down and write!  Turn off all of the distractions in your life and pay attention to the sounds in your head!  Write your thoughts, feelings, senses, and memories.  Create characters, stories, poems and combine them with art if you can.  Let your imagination run wild!  But you can’t do that if you don’t take time. Sit. Let you mind wander and pick up a pen.   

As one student told Mrs. Laird, “Now that Liz came to our school, I know what to write:  moments from our lives.” 

They don’t have to be big moments.  Some of the best writing can be a small detail that makes all the difference in your world.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write about one small (or big) thing that happened today to make you smile.

2.  Take out the last story or piece that you wrote.  Now add a sensory description.  Is there a sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell you can add that will give your piece more depth and make the reader feel like he or she was really there?  Can you add more than one?

3.  Recently, I posted a photo of a gopher that my husband took onto an online sharing site. I thought a couple of people might think it was cute.  Twenty-five people began a discussion about it! Who knew so many people could talk so much about a little gopher?  Something so un-important became a heated discussion!  Write a conversation where you say one little thing and suddenly people react in ways you’d never imagine!

4.  Keep a diary/journal for one week.  You don’t have to write everything that happens to you.  Just choose one thing each day that you want to write about. What will you choose?  Whatever you choose, make the reader feel like he or she is right with you by writing your thoughts, feelings, and a sensory description.  You can even put in some dialogue!

5.  Write about an animal you have met or known.  Make that animal come alive!  Describe it.  Make it move.  How did it make you feel?

Tall Tales with Sid Fleischman

March 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Sid Fleischman! Celebrate this Newbery award-winning author by writing a tall tale, one of his many talents. From an interview in The ABCs of Writing for Children, Fleischman says, “Tall tales are highly specialized humor. . . Take Jim Bridger (he really lived) who discovered that it took eight hours for an echo to return from a distant mountain. He turned it into an alarm clock by shouting, “Wake up!” before he went to bed. The next morning, eight hours later, the echo returned and woke him up.”

Exercise: Brainstorm like Sid Fleischman does. In McBroom’s Ghost, it was so cold, “Polly dropped her comb on the floor, when she picked it up the teeth were chattering.”

It was so hot . . .
The mountain was so steep . . .
He was so fat . . .
She was so skinny . . .

Have fun with tall tale humor!