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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jump-Starting Your Creativity Engine

     From time to time, I'll share pieces that I've published in writers' magazines for my blog.  I wrote this article for the writers' magazine The Creativity Connection back in January 2001.

                    Five Easy Ways to Jump-Start Your Creativity Engine

Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with all the half-written thoughts and fragmented phrases scribbled in my journal.    

You can call it writer’s block.  To me, it’s more like I my engine has stalled.  Because this happens to me more than I care to admit, I have found five tricks to help get me back on the writing track. 

1.      Take a walk.  Walking helps me think.  Besides, it’s a great way to get exercise and take a break from sitting in front of the computer.  While I walk I might think about a word or phrase that I have written.  I quiet my internal editor, and then I allow free thought to take over.  Or, if I don’t want to think so much, I might make observations as I walk.  Seeing and hearing things along the way may help me find just the right words to finish a poem or an article.

2.      Take classes.  I like to take workshops offered at our literacy center.  Not only have I have met other writers, I’ve also had instructors help me find direction for my ideas.  Similarly, taking online classes may be worthwhile, although I haven’t tried these yet.

3.      Re-write a story.  For instance, changing the point of view can liven up a story.  Sometimes, I like to switch from third person to first to give the story an up-close personal feeling.  Changing from past to present tense is another way to re-shape your piece. 

4.      Study writer’s magazines.  I like to read Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazine, to name a few.  I save informative articles and pull them out whenever I need help.     

5.      Read a favorite novel, some short stories, or poems.  I like to analyze why I like them.  Sometimes, I practice mimicking the technique, which helps me re-invent or strengthen my style.
   
Out of the five, going on a walk is the easiest and least expensive.  Walking can help bring focus to creative ideas.  Likewise reading, whether it’s for enjoyment or education, is a great way to help channel your ideas.  Moreover, taking classes can give birth to new ideas or give direction to your work.  Although classes involve a little more effort (and money), the payoffs are worth it.  Re-writing stories and studying magazines is a little like doing homework, but the results may just spark ideas to explore and to write about.
    
These five ideas work for me, but the bottom line is to discover what works for you.  What can you do to jump-start your creativity engine? 


Monday, December 20, 2010

From Crabs to Acceptance

Over the past two years, I pitched several articles to Highlights for Children, but they all got rejected.  Last month however, I earned an acceptance with a piece on crabs and I think I figured out what won the editor over.

I am listing twelve steps to follow before submitting a piece to a magazine editor.  Points #6 and #8 are two of the most important points.  You can tackle all of the twelve points perfectly, but if your writing is unimaginative and you fail to create a story, you’ll have a harder time finding a home for your work.    

1.   Read articles in the magazine for which you wish to pitch
2.   Follow the publisher’s guidelines. 
3.   Find a topic that interests you and interests children. 
4.   Use primary sources, reliable websites, and up-to-date books for your research.
5.   Make a brief outline for your article.    
6.   Keep the language lively and the vocabulary age appropriate. 
7.   Choose a point of view that’s unique.
8.   Spin the well-researched information into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  
9.   Edit your work.  Read it aloud.  Use spell check, but know that it’s not always accurate.
10.  Have an expert review your work for accuracy.  
11.  Write a professional cover letter. 
12.  Aquire photos for your article.  They could be the pièce de résistance.

In the past, my writing style was more informative than playful.  So for my latest submission to Highlights for Children, I constructed a piece with a beginning, a middle, and an ending and wrote the story from the point of view (POV) of a small crab.  The research information was subtly woven into the paragraphs. Following these twelve steps, especially step six, worked for me and this publication.  I’m willing to bet it will work for you.  Give it a try.  Believe in yourself.  Never give up.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: The Great Snowball Escapade






The Great Snowball Escapade
by J. D. Holiday;  illus. by the author
Primary     Book Garden Publishing     90 pp.
3/10     978-0981861425 $5.99

Wilhelmina, or Wil as she likes to be called, is upset.  Her cousin Bud is now living with her family and she knows that he stole her new pink pencil sharpener.  Bud denies it, but makes little effort in winning her friendship or the friendship of others.  Wil has to find a way to get along with Bud.   But a snowball fight ensues, a friend’s cat is lost, and a bully appears with a scary dog.  What more could go wrong for Wil?  J. D. Holiday delivers just the right amount of suspense to entice children to turn the pages.  Perfect for six to eight year old readers and loaded with black and white illustrations, the story shows the effect of bullying and the value of understanding another’s point of view.

Win an autographed copy!  Become a follower of The Maggie Project by simply creating a Google account.  Followers will be entered in the giveaway contest.   A name will be drawn at random on December 31st.  The winner will be announced the next day. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Writers' News

Photo by Lucas

I found a website with many helpful writing resources:  http://www.resourcesforchildrenswriters.com/ 
On Rachelle Burk’s website you can spend hours checking out writers’ articles, agent and editor listings, critique groups and much more. 

For personal news, I submitted to Albert Whitman in June.  After waiting 4 months, I conclude they are passing on my manuscript.  I received a personal rejection letter from Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

Here’s a list of the publishing houses that I submitted to this fall:
Tanglewood Press, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, Dutton Books, Boyds Mills Publishing, Peachtree Publishing, Philomel Books, Holiday House, and Charlesbridge.

I’ve had more luck with placing my nonfiction articles.   After several attempts, I was awarded an acceptance with Highlights for Children. And Appleseeds, the respected social studies magazine for children, accepted my article on the Derby race horse, Visionaire. 

Remember as you write your picture book to practice writing in different genres.  Consider writing fictional short stories, poetry, or nonfiction articles for children’s magazines.  Now take it one step further and submit your work. (Of the three, nonfiction is the easiest to get published.)  Two markets that will most likely welcome your work are http://www.viatouch.com/  and www.storiesforchildrenmagazine.org .  I’m an editor at both publications and look forward to reading well-researched, interesting topics for children.  Publishing nonfiction will help you earn credentials, which will impress a picture book editor.     

Coming next week:  a review of J. D. Holiday’s chapter book, The Great Snowball Escapade. Sign up as a follower to enter the book-giveaway contest.