Friday, November 21, 2014


This is what you wake to: the world new blue, the streetlight nearly moon.  Your book is done, or nearly done for now.  The world that waited patiently went silent.  The dream you’ve tended through four seasons moved on to someone else.  It’s the reader’s dream right now; you’ve let it go.  Mr. Marsworth. Reenie.  They’re probably on a desk now in New York.  Of all the writing seasons—first glimpse, the wild beginning, writing and rewriting, seeing new and starting over--this one, this perfectly done day, this moment of new winter when you wake to new blue silence, this ending as beginning, it’s this season you love most.  If you never wrote another word, you will have this.  And isn’t that enough?   How beautiful it is.  How faithful.  How patiently it waited.  How much it wants you back where you belong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November Harvest by Kristin Levine

This past month has definitely been a time of harvest for me.  My third book, THE PAPER COWBOY, came out in September, and October was full of launch events.
I had a lovely party for my family and friends at Hooray for Books in my hometown of Alexandria, VA...

... and got to travel to Downers Grove, Illinois, which is where THE PAPER COWBOY takes place.  Highlights there included traveling around my father's hometown and doing a number of exciting school visits. 

But as the launch events wind down, I get to go back to my favorite part of the writing process... doing the actual writing.    

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is Gardening "Very Hard Work"? by Claudia Mills (November theme)

We've been sharing wonderful thoughts about gardening/harvesting as a fruitful metaphor for writing children's books. My jumping off point for this point today is a famous children's story about a garden from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad Together.

 Toad is envious of Frog's fine garden. Frog accepts Toad's compliments: "It is very nice, but it was hard work." Toad decides to try his own hand at gardening with flower seeds given to him by Frog. But Toad's repeated command, "Now seeds, start growing!" doesn't work. Instead, Frog convinces Toad that he has actually made his poor seeds too frightened to grow. Toad now embarks on a program of seed-reassurance: on successive nights he reads stories to his seeds, sings songs for his seeds, reads poems to his seeds, and plays music for them. Finally, he falls asleep exhausted only to wake up and find that his seeds have sprouted at last. "You were right, Frog," Toad tells his friend. "It was very hard work."

Now, as readers, even as young readers, we know that most of Toad's work here was completely unnecessary. The stories, songs, poems, and music didn't make his seeds grow. What did? Sun, rain, soil, and patient waiting.

So here is my question for us as writers. How often are we like Toad, wearing ourselves out with work that didn't need to be done in the first place? Now, it's true that we can't just produce our stories by commanding our story ideas, "Now ideas, start growing!" And it's also true that Toad's garden is going to take a lot of weeding and watering, and more weeding and watering, before those sprouted seeds flower, the part of the story Lobel leaves out. But I think sometimes we make our writer lives harder than they need to be, when we could just write on faithfully, accumulating word after word with patient waiting, letting sun, rain, and soil - the creative process - do its thing.

I'm thinking about distractions like second-guessing ourselves, letting that nagging editorial voice intrude on the process too soon, polishing text that isn't even ready for major revision yet, procrastinating on a project that needs to get done by starting another one that doesn't, doing revisions with an ax when all we needed was a scalpel, sharing ideas with people we already know will be critical of them, comparing ourselves to others. All those things that make our seeds too frightened to grow, and so "necessitate" endless rounds of pointless seed-reassurance.

What if we just planted, watered, weeded, and waited? And then celebrated our "nice gardens" like Frog and Toad.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Harvest Jar (November Theme - Sarah Dooley)

When I come across a photo in a box in my closet, or on my sister's wall, or on a family member's Facebook page on Throwback Thursday, I jot it down on a scrap of paper.

“Summer we lived in the tents.”
“Six a.m. bathrobe trip to the barn.”
“Party hats and inappropriate music.”

Sometimes it isn't a photo that prompts the memory. Sometimes it's a keepsake, or a comment someone makes, or the weather.

"Little chip of rose quartz."
"Your head's a flat rock."
"Hot like when Dad brought home the pool on foot."

I stuff the scraps of paper in a jar and the jar gets lost again in the mess on my desk, with the extra bottles of ink for my "fancy pen" and the coffee-stained revision notes and, if I'm being completely honest, the pile of clean but mismatched socks, since my office doubles as the laundry room.

I don't use the jar much. But when there's a keyboard at my fingertips and I don't have anything to say, I pull out a scrap of paper.

"Angry Santa on the number seven bus."

Yeah, that was an interesting ride to work. But when I take that strange morning and write my way back into it, I've got a place to start. Once I'm in, I can play around a little. Change the bus route. Adjust the destination. I can hand the whole odd occurrence to a character I've got floating around in my head, and then it takes on a life of its own and suddenly I've got a first chapter.

It doesn't always turn into a novel. Sometimes it turns into nothing more than a productive writing session. But the interesting thing is that once I start writing a memory, I remember it much more vividly than I did when I sat down at my desk. Details start to surface that I wouldn't have otherwise recalled. By the end of the session, I might have found a starting point for good fiction, but if all I've got is a clearer recollection of something that happened when I was young, well, that's also valuable.

When I was a kid and something would happen – something odd, something funny, something frustrating – my mother would remind me that it would all go in a book someday. Though I write fiction, they say the truth is stranger and they aren't wrong. So when I happen across a memory, I put it in the jar and I use it as a place to start.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Harvesting the Invisible by Danette Vigilante

It’s only now that I realize I’ve been “harvesting” all of my life. When I step back to take a look, I see that, first, I’ve gathered, then tucked, all kinds of invisible things safely away into my basket for future use. I have always taken in and dissected my experiences, or the experiences of others (even strangers), extracting the thing which stood out the most to me—the thing that made me feel the most. It’s usually something I can’t quite name, but I take it in all the same.

As a child, I had no idea what it was like to live in a house with multiple floors and a backyard. I lived in a housing project with many other families. Yet, while traveling by bus or on foot, I watched as people came and went from those mysterious houses, taking what I could from their interactions with others, their demeanor or facial expressions. My own neighborhood provided something too: I watched as the elderly rolled their grocery carts to and from stores and took in the lives of the other kids as they played on the stoop or interacted with their parents and strangers. My first book, The Trouble with Half a Moon, relied heavily on my old neighborhood bringing all of that and more out and into the open.

I imagine all writers must do something similar, and that is why we’re able to “write what we know” without actually experiencing the “thing” ourselves. This is why writers can write with emotional truth.

We will forever gather those unnamed things and use them to the best of our ability, enabling others to then feel the most, and to know the things which they've never experienced themselves. If we are able to achieve this, then we've gathered well and wisely.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gleaning (November Harvest Theme) by Bob Krech

Our family owns a share in a local organic farm. From May through the end of November we go out there once a week on our designated day and pick up (or literally, pick) our share. The vegetables are great and I've learned a lot about some veggies I'd never heard of before, as well as how to cook them.

I think my favorite part of this process (besides eating) is when they open up the farm at the end of the season for gleaning. During that final week, all the share holders are allowed to go out into the fields and basically pick up whatever is left. As much as you want. It is mostly root vegetables like carrots, daikon, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. A lot of them are small, misshapen, or imperfect in various ways. This is a lot of fun, especially with kids.

One of the things I've ended up doing in my writing reminds me a little of gleaning. My natural tendency is to overwrite. I'm not a big talker, but I guess I'm a "big writer." The first time I showed one of my YA novels to an editor, he told me I would need to lose about 100 pages! That gives you some idea.

I still overwrite, but now of course I go back over the manuscript and cut and cut and cut. Some of the cuts, I just delete. But some I save. Sometimes whole scenes or even pages. Some of those pieces took a long time to craft and they're not bad, they just aren't propelling the story forward enough to keep in there. Sometimes they contain a description I like or some dialogue or an idea, that may be useful in the future.

I tend to cut these pieces and paste them at the back of the manuscript in case I need to put them back. After the manuscript is final though, I will eventually put them in a file marked "Deleted scenes from xxx" and leave them in the desktop equivalent of the attic for future use. On a few occasions I have actually gone back and gleaned a few bits and pieces and given them new life.

I thought I was the only one who did this until recently when on a freelance job I was reviewing a draft of a television script, and lo and behold there at the end of the script were some snippets the writer had cut and pasted and I guess had inadvertently left there. It made me smile to see it wasn't just me with this little habit. Anybody else out there do this kind of thing? Fellow gleaners?

Friday, November 14, 2014

MY SQUIRRELY IDEA-GATHERING WAYS November Theme by Tamera Wissinger

My little comp book.
Story ideas are everywhere. At least they are in my world…some are in my journal, while others are in the little composition book that I carry in my shoulder bag, or in the note pad I keep in my night stand, or on another little pad that I keep tucked inside my golf bag. They might also be on a sticky note (or napkin) in my car, on the grocery list (or receipt). A new favorite if I’m without pen and paper: the “Notes” app in my phone. This month I’m participating in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer's equivalent of NaNoWriMo headed by picture book author Tara Lazar), so ideas are flying in particularly fast – one or more a day. Wherever I am, if an idea strikes I try to get it down. The problem (if you want to call it a problem) is, I’m not very organized with my ideas once they’re captured.

In the wild, I recently learned, this gathering methodology has a name: Scatter Hoarding. It’s the behavior I see in the gray squirrel that, for much of the year, uses my backyard as her scatter-hoarding highway. She routinely busies herself with finding and then hiding her food supply in various places around the neighborhood so that she can come back to those spots later – when she’s hungry and there is no food available in plain sight.

It’s not one bit glamorous that my story idea gathering behavior is a teensy bit (or a lot) like the squirrel, but it works for me. In the moment, it's most important to me to recognize an idea, get it down, and tuck it away so that I can come back for it later. And I do. When I’m hungry for a new idea and there is nothing available in plain sight, I gather my scattered notes, take stock, and dive into the one that I find most tempting.

Maybe it’s not the most efficient way to handle ideas, but for now I’m content with my squirrely idea-gathering ways. Who knows, maybe I'll even get a PiBoIdMo story idea out of this. What’s your methodology for capturing your ideas? Do you scatter like me, are you more organized, or do you have a different frenzied, but effective way? My squirrely idea-gathering mind wants to know.
Tamera Will Wissinger writes poetry and stories for children. She earned her M.F.A. degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She is the author of GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) and THIS OLD BAND (Sky Pony Press). Connect with Tamera online through her Website or on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Harvesting the Gems.

For me, the revision process for a novel is a lot like harvesting.  Plowing through rows of dense prose to find the ripe phrase, lush imagery, and fresh sentence buried beneath so much manure.
      Each passing lifts away a fallow, useless bit to wither and delete, leaving behind the small, sparkling gems that were always there, but needed pruning.  As the perfect words, phrases, and scenes settle onto the page, it's as satisfying and refreshing as a day spent outdoors.  Breezy, sun-filled and clear; newly dusted off with all the dead debris removed. Now visible in all its splendor.
     Like a crisp, juicy apple nourishes the body, my aim is to harvest the prose that nourishes the soul.