What Does THE END Look Like?

THE END. It’s usually a good place to be. It means you have completed a journey. The last day of November marked THE END for writers who participated in NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo. They’ve slogged through the hurdles of drafting a novel, or worked through creative bursts of ideas for picture books until they accumulated at least 30. But writer or not, when you’ve completed a task, it is always good to find yourself at THE END of it.

When I get to THE END of a project, I’m usually surrounded by chaos. I think I’m that classic creative type who works best in a mess. Up to a point… This November, I not only participated in PiBoIdMo, but did the final proofing of my forthcoming novel, The Boy Problem AND finished a novel I’ve been working on for years. I met all of my goals! But when I was finished, my desk looked like this:

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As much as this desk helped me get to THE END of two novels, I found I couldn’t begin to start a new project on it. So I did something I don’t like doing very much. I gave up a day of writing to organize. I stacked all of the drafts of The Boy Problem together.  The result was a ten inch, twenty seven pound stack. When you look at that you can kind of see how I work through a novel. With lots of little flags noting pages that still need work. This probably only represents half of them, many were pulled out along the way.

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There were a few more stacks not-quite-so-impressive stacks as well… but eventually, my desk looked like this.

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Yeah, I know there are still two pretty messy piles, but you don’t expect me to create in a completely clean environment, do you? The point is, I’ve reached THE END of some important projects! And now, with space on my desk, I can start a new project… a new beginning!

I recently received the ARCs for THE BOY PROBLEM! When  an author actually holds an ARC, the book finally feels real! It marks THE END of a great journey!

I recently received the ARCs for THE BOY PROBLEM! When an author actually holds an ARC, the book finally feels real.It marks THE END of a great journey!

Onward we go! What does THE END look like to you?

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

This post was originally published on November 29, 2010 at Tara Lazar’s blog in honor of PiBoIdMo. We thought those of you participating in this year’s picture book idea month might find it useful.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

pirate princessIf you’re like me, writing is work. By this I mean it is my job, my primary source of income (therefore, work) but also that it is just plain HARD. There is nothing so depressing as trying to come up with something new and fresh to write about—and coming up with nothing.

That happens to me a lot.

So what do you do?

Well, I really don’t know the answer. But here are some tricks I use to muddle through those times when I have nothing to write about.

1) Start with character. I truly believe that the most important aspect of a picture book, what drives its popularity the most, is a charismatic main character. The premise, the setting, the cutesy word play and rhyme—all of these are secondary to character. So if you need to brainstorm only one thing, work on that viable character list.

The trick to creating a truly charismatic main character is to blend flaws with flair. Don’t just come up with fifty cute character traits. Give your main character some faults, some defects—he will be infinitely more interesting.

2) Something old into something new. There are so many examples of authors who take an old idea and make it into something modern and fresh. The entire genre of fractured fairy tales is built on the premise that recognizable is always a benefit for marketing, but recognizable AND fresh is money in the bank. Now I’m not at all recommending that all you do is read a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales and add a hippopotamus to each story (don’t do that, because it was my idea first). But if you can take inspiration from something your audience will recognize and then take it to a brand new place, where is the downside?

quackensteinSome examples of this in my own work:
THE HOG PRINCE – we know it’s a frog prince, not a hog prince, but Eldon does not.
QUACKENSTEIN – isn’t every monster story better with a duck?
THE TWELVE WORST DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – believe it or not, in addition to a Christmas song, this is a sibling story

3) Look at your own life. And I mean this as way to eliminate bad ideas. When you’re having a hard time with inspiration, there is the temptation to use your own children or grandchildren as your muses. Trust me, this is a bad idea. Because as cute as their latest antics are to you, they very rarely make for good picture books. Save yourself. Don’t do it.

4) Exercise. Well, do a writing exercise at least. When you’re really stuck you could reinforce your writing ability by taking a book that is perhaps not one of your favorites and then rewriting it the way it should be. Obviously, you can’t then try to publish your version of Dora the Explorer (because Nora the Explorer or even Eleanora the Explorer is simply not going to be fresh enough to merit a whole new franchise!). But the exercise will show you that you are not only able to create a new story but one that is better than something that was actually published (which means there is hope for you yet) and, again, you never know where that road will lead.

Hampire_jacket5) When all else fails, take a breath. Sorry, guys, sometimes the ideas are not going to come. No matter how much you force it. When you are really and truly stuck, stop trying so hard. Instead, work on revising older manuscripts—maybe you can whip one of those into shape. Or perhaps the something old that you will turn into something new will come from your own pile of older ideas.

Inspiration Permission

In the last two weeks, I practically made myself at home over at Tara Lazar’s blog. I revealed two new covers for two new picture books and held a caption contest, and then I gave a math lesson for PiBoIdMo. I don’t want all my Nerdy Chicks (and Nerdy-Chicks-Supporters) to think I’ve forgotten about them, though. So I’ve been trying to think of something to share here in honor of PiBoIdMo.

Sometimes, inspirations come from from seemingly disparate places. That’s what happened here. I’ve managed to mash up the caption contest with a PiBoIdMo lesson.

There were a lot of great caption ideas for both ORANGUTANGLED and SNORING BEAUTY. I had to pick one winner, though, and that was Dawn Young with her very versatile entry, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” (Works so well for both covers, no?)

BeFunky_snor beauty cover winner BeFunky_orangutangled winner.jpg

But like I said, there were so many wonderful ideas. Here are some more that stood out to me:

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What was very cool was how so many different people looked the same pictures but came up with such different ideas for what the characters were saying, thinking, or feeling — and often, their ideas did not resemble my books AT ALL. And I realized that here was something that could help all the PiBoIdMo participants and writers in general.

I give you my permission to take inspiration from other books.

All the people who participated in the caption contest looked at a picture and, without any other information, allowed themselves to imagine who the characters were. But what each of them came up with was his or her own idea, not mine. And many of them are ideas that can be built on.

To be very clear, I’m not advocating stealing other authors’ ideas! (Please don’t go write a book about three orangutans tangled up instead of two!) But I can see the beginning of new, original ideas in the captions that I read. For example, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” — could that be a starting point to brainstorm other awkward situations? Could one of those situations be the basis of a new book? I think so.

I’ve actually used a version of this exercise in schools when I’ve conducted writing workshops. When you look at a spread of a picture book, there is only so much dialogue in the actual text that accompanies a picture. But if you ask a classroom of kids to fill in what that extended conversation might sound like…it’s actually amazing how far they can take it. They can start with one image and a few lines of text and they can write an entire scene around it. (Teachers, what do you think? Have you ever tried something similar with your students?)

So, writers, PiBoIdMo participants, Nerdy Chicks: when you get stuck on your next idea, I hope you’ll think of this suggestion, and I hope it will get some of you un-stuck. But even if it doesn’t, I guarantee you’ll have fun — and sometimes that’s all we need to get us going again.

 

 

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

piboidmo2013-slogan-490x301Tis the season of people writing like mad. Of sky-rocketing coffee consumption. Of letters being worn off of keyboards, and carpal tunnel flare-ups. Tis the season of NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo! If you’re a children’s writer, you’re familiar with both National Novel Writing Month and Picture Book Idea Month.

Non writers call this month November.

And because today is the first day of this celebrated month, I’m going to ask you a question important to every writer, nay, every PERSON.

What do you want?

Knowing what you want is the first step toward getting it. (Here ends my advice for the non writers… probably.)

For writers, remember that the same is true of your characters. Whether you are embarking on a fifty thousand word journey, or an idea forNaNoWriMo text to cover thirty two pages, you need to know what your character wants from the very first word!

Take a moment to think about it. Maybe make a space for it on each page of your PiBoIdMo journal. For novelists, write what your MC wants on a post-it note and stick it to your screen. Remember that your main character’s wants will drive your story. You will build your plot around this, and create obstacles for your character because of it.

A great example of a character whose desires drive the story is Mo Willems’s Pigeon.  No character in literature does a better job of letting us know what he wants. Aren’t familiar with this famous (and successful) bird? You can find out what he wants right here:

Do you know what YOUR main character wants?

Yes? Well, here’s to a successful month, no matter what you’re writing (or not writing)!

Now. Tell me what you want!  I won’t see who enters what, but depending on what you all share, it could make for a really interesting post.

Pssst: Sudipta and I will both be guest bloggers over at PiBoIdMo founder Tara Lazar’s blog this month.

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More Authors Give Back-to-School Advice

Break-These-Rules-CoverLast week, we posted some advice from authors for kids heading back to school. Not only did we get a lot of great feedback on that post, one of our brilliant authors, Kathy Erskine, tipped us off to a great new book (which she has contributed to) called Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself, edited by Luke Reynolds. If you haven’t discovered this book yet, we highly recommend it. It is Nerdy Chick-Approved!


Since last week’s post was so well-received, we decided to run a follow-up this week. So, without further ado, take a minute to listen to what these five fabulous authors have to say.

If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

leeza dog goneLeeza Hernandez, author of DOG GONE!: “Middle school: DUCK! High school: You might not be good at that and that’s okay. It in no way means you are a failure, simply do your best!”

IMG_2566bear-snores-on_256Karma Wilson, author of BEAR SNORES ON: “Value yourself. You’re not trash, even if you make mistakes. The best way to stop making mistakes is to value yourself enough to stop making stupid mistakes.”

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792 297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nKat Yeh, author of THE MAGIC BRUSH: “I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later). A dear and wise-beyond-her-years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: ‘Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be.’ I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck so she made the card for me. I still have it.”

monstoretara lazarTara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE: “Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.”

burining emerald jaime_pic_4x7Jaime Reed, author of BURNING EMERALD: “Stop worrying what everyone thinks about you. You’ll barely see any of these kids again in six years anyway. It’s not worth stressing out over. Seriously. Just do you.”

New GIVEAWAY!

During Picture Book Idea Month (or PiBoIdMo, as those in the know call it), participants are asked to come up with new picture book ideas. One of the best way to come up with picture book ideas is to find inspiration through reading other picture books. Therefore, in honor of  PiBoIdMo, we are doing a picture book giveaway!

Inspiration is an evolving thing, and what we can do with inspiration changes over time as well. So the prize here is actually a set of two autographed picture books: my first, Tightrope Poppy, the High-Wire Pig, and my last (or, at least, my most recent) Pirate Princess. Are you excited? Ready to be inspired? I hope so!

There are several ways to enter:

(1) Leave a comment telling me about the best picture book you’ve read in the last two years (just so every answer ins’t Where the Wild things Are)

(2) follow me on Twitter — mention that in a comment

(3) like my author page on Facebook — mention that in a comment

(4) follow this blog (right sidebar) — mention that in a comment

or (5)  follow fellow blogger Kami Kinard’s Facebook author page — mention that in a comment

So, that’s FIVE ways you can enter to win! Just make sure you tell us in the comments which types of entries you’ve submitted. We will select a winner on November 26 (*) so the contest will remain open until November 25. Good luck to everyone!

* Only entries from the US or Canada are eligible to win the autographed books

Tara Lazar: Picture Book Writer and PiBoIdMo Creator

In honor of PiBoIdMo (you do know what that is, don’t you?), have we got a treat for you. The fabulously nerdy and brilliantly fabulous Tara Lazar is joining us today for a special bonus interview. Let’s hear what this Nerdy Chick has to say…

 

I’ve known Tara for several years through NJ-SCBWI. Not only is she a great writer and a super person, she’s also as into shoes and fashion as I am. Tara’s first picture book, The Monstore is forthcoming from Aladdin in June 2013, with two more picture books following soon after. She has inspired hundreds of picture book authors with a program she created called PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month. Visit her blog (http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/)to read more about it… or to join up!

Thanks for joining us Tara! We’ll start off with a question we ask everyone: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.

I remember that look! At least we can say it looked better on the chicks than the dudes! You’re a professional writer – can you share some of your favorite things to read? I love short stories. I subscribe to One Story and I buy the Greatest American Short Stories anthology every year. But I also read a lot of novels, both for adults and kids. I prefer quirky stories with a sprinkling of magic—nothing too fantastical or surreal, just enough magic so it’s still plausible. And who can forget picture books? I read at least two hours every day.

Wow. That’s a lot of reading, but everyone says reading makes us better writers. Since you are so well read, how do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)? When I was growing up, I only remember Judy Blume books as speaking to me directly as an adolescent girl. Now there are hundreds of books aimed at young girls’ unique experiences: having an autistic sibling, losing a parent, wanting to excel in a talent, being a super-genius, coming from a poor family, dealing with bullies… The choices are endless. There’s a book to ease concerns over every embarrassing and mysterious dilemma inside every girl. She can feel confident knowing she’s not alone, giving her the courage to be herself.

I didn’t look so good, so Tara started grooming me — I can always count on her to have my back!

I agree. Thankfully, there are more books than ever for girls these days. Besides reading, what’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? Teaching! I love to teach new writers; I enjoy sharing my knowledge. I get a kick when I see their faces light up in an “aha” moment.

I also love studying rocks and minerals, Hubble space telescope images, literature of the 1920’s, and Discover Magazine. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a teen. C’mon, discovering buried treasure for a living? Awesome!

Do you have a favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick? I was on the high school physics team. We even had a cheer: P-H-Y-S-I-C-S, physics, physics, yes, yes, YES! (OK, I didn’t say it was a good cheer.) I also scored leading roles in my HS plays and directed the senior year play. I was a drama geek, too. This was BEFORE “High School Musical” and “Glee”, when it was really uncool. But I didn’t care, I loved it.

Hahaha! There’s probably a reason the physics club isn’t the cheer squad, right? Thanks again for showing us your nerdy side! And may this be the biggest PiBoIdMo ever!

To find out more about Tara, visit her blog (taralazar.com), like her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/authortara ) or follow her @taralazar on Twitter.