Miranda Paul is a children’s writer who is passionate about creating stories for young readers that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. In addition to more than 50 short stories for magazines and digital markets, Miranda is the author of several forthcoming picture books from imprints of Lerner, Macmillan, and Random House. Her debut, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection. Her second book, Water is Water, is illustrated by award-winning artist Jason Chin and releases in May. She is the Executive Vice President of Outreach for We Need Diverse Books™ and the administrator of RateYourStory.org, a site for aspiring writers. Miranda believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.
Fall is upon us. The chill in the air signals all things comfy cozy and perhaps a few more moments to muse. Birds are patterning their flights south, and squirrels are scurrying about packing nuts. Yarn balls and needles are surfacing on sofas and the lure of soup making is beckoning once again.
When I was a little girl, I would spin in the sunshine of my backyard until I fell in a patch of dandelions enough to make my pretend soup. I’d add the flowers to a pail of water and stir my mixture, dashing in imaginary spices. During these moments I was at totally at ease and my mind was free to wander. I never tried to eat my backyard soup (thank goodness). It was the act of creating that I delighted in.
As I grew into a young girl, alphabet soup became my favorite. The tiny pasta letters were the ultimate game of scrabble and I loved the wordplay. My mother made an assortment of nourishing hearty soups.
I’m all grown up now and like most busy people, I don’t have hours to swirl in the sunshine. But as writers, we still need moments to muse. Moments that give our minds the space to pause, notice, fixate, and meditate on the shape of a cloud or the hue of a sunset. Time spent in contemplation is often what prompt us to write. The moments can become the seeds of stories.
Time has always stood still for me during activities that involve my hands and stimulate my senses. Activities like crocheting or making soup channel my creative energy, ultimately seasoning my writing.
Life is hectic now with family, kids, work and writing. But I still cook soup from scratch a few times a season. I want to feed my family healthy meals, and I need to feed my muse. Making soup takes me back to my childhood backyard where there was no time, just space to imagine.
This season, treat yourself. Try to finds some time for activities that allow you to mull momentarily. The evenings are getting longer and story time can be extended a few minutes. Cozy up with a bowl of soup. Make it from scratch if you can. If you’re short on time, these picture books may do the trick. Pause for a few minutes… long enough to imagine… your next story.
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children.
Everything sparks ideas. But capturing ideas before they flee is daunting. For me, whimsical and wily inspiration comes from problems, experiences and observations.
1. Problems: When my daughter Sydney was in first grade, she wrote a song in response to a bully. After she sang it to her class, the bully approached her.
“Did you write that song about me?”
Sydney: “Yes I did.”
Bully: “I’m going to be nicer to you. I don’t want you to write another song about me!”
Sydney's problem inspired her to write a song that not only solved her first grade bully problem, but also drove the creation of our family band.
My childhood problems tend to resurface in my writing. Ultimately all of my main characters figure out a way to overcome doubt and be true to themselves.
In Cornelia Funk's The Princess Knight, Princess Violetta wants to do things that are unexpected of her. Strong women who defy stereotypes appear in all of Cornelia Funk's books and I wonder if this was a problem for her.
2. Experiences: Every manuscript we write embodies a little bit of who we were as kids. Childhood memories and experiences inspire wonderful picture books. The clumsy unicorn in one of my stories is definitely a magical version of who I was as a kid.
Tara Lazar's The Monstore, depicts a boy who wants to keep his sister away. On the flap of the book, Tara says she would have loved a monstore as a kid to help her spook her little brother.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, is an example of days that we all have experienced as kids--that's why it resonates with everyone.
3. Observations: Every single one of my stories was inspired by observing my five kiddos. I told the story of The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall on a rainy day to Sydney when she was bored of waiting at Home Depot. Sydney also inspired a story about dragons and intense tantrums. Another of my stories tells about a fashionista who is strangely similar to my 6 year old daughter.
My friend Paul Czajak wrote Monster Needs his Sleep, after years of bedtime experience with his kids.
Think about your problems and experiences and observe the kids you know. Pay attention to the ideas that are waiting to be held and told and made into a story that will change lives.
What are your sources of inspiration?
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out last December. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you might find her attempting to capture ideas! You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
There are many paths that lead to writing. Some people write because talent sprang from their fingers the moment they wrote their first poem. They knew they wanted to be a writer. (Not me!) Others tried their hand at writing in high school and became the editor of the school newspaper. What promise! But after graduation, life carried them along in new, practical directions that had nothing to do with writing, so writing simmered quietly on the back burner. They promised themselves they’d get back to it one day. Some never did. Others dusted off their writing ambitions when grandkids came along. Now they had a cherished audience to write for. (Still not me!)
So why did I start writing? The answer isn’t as lofty as I would like it to be. I often think it would have been cool if I’d been one of those colossal writing talents just waiting to be discovered. Then one day--viola! “My gosh!” someone would gasp, “Where has she been all this time?! The world has been waiting for someone like her to illuminate the world with her words.”
Ha! The truth is, no one was waiting for me to writing anything.
I unearthed my writing passion when I was a stay-at-home mother of three. Up until then, I’d earned my degree in Dance Education, subbed at my former high school, and been the secretary for everything under the sun--accountants, engineers, attorneys, school districts, and temp agencies. I’d made a career out of typing boatloads of everyone else’s stuff.
I’d always looked forward to marriage and motherhood, so it was a blessing to be able to stay home with my kids when they arrived. However, in between the loads of laundry, piles of dishes, and diaper changes, I longed for something separate from my role as mom and wife. I didn’t know what it would be, so with my precious snippets of time, I took a smattering of classes at community college--interior decorating, sewing, gardening, and canning. It was interesting, but not inspiring.
Then one day, I took a creative writing class--and a light bulb went on. What was this terribly wonderful thing that opened a door into my literary soul? Writing was one of the most challenging and exhilarating things I’d ever tried.
While I was home with my children, I’d also been reintroduced to children’s literature that I’d loved since I was a kid. I still remembered the day I checked out Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak from my elementary school and brought it home for my birthday celebration that night. Imagine! A boy surrounded by monsters. I couldn’t wait for my mother to read it to me. When I learned to read, my nose was always in a book and I spent countless happy hours at my local library. But I never imagined writing myself. Writing was something other people did that lived far away from my ordinary home on Jennie Drive.
Once I began writing, the more I wanted to write.
I’ve been writing ever since.
I write to see what develops. I write because there is a mountain and I’m determined to scale it somehow. I write to coax a thought into existence that unexpectedly catches its breath and magically flits away--a new thing in the universe. I write because it is a joy to get something right, like balancing a wooden spoon on the edge of bubbling pot. I write because it’s darn fun. I write because it makes me crazy. I write because it keeps me sane.
I write because life would not be the same without it.
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. A member of SCBWI, Lori speaks at schools, SCBWI conferences, and has worked as a writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for the past eight years. Recent picture book titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, (Clarion, 2013), Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault (Random House, 2010), and In the Trees, Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009). To learn more about Lori and her upcoming books, visit her website at www.lorimortensen.com, or read her blog at http://lorimortensen.blogspot.com.
I looked at a lot of blogs and interviews to prep for being a first-time blogger. The old interviews ended up being what interested me most. People ask the most amazing things. What music do I listen to when I write?
Do I write in my pajamas?
There is only one rather dated answer: Du-uh.
Where do I get my ideas?
Ideas find writers. The real trick is showing up to be found.
Now there’s a question: “You lead a busy life, Audrey, how can you focus on writing?”
Part of it is just showing up. i keep a quote taped up in the study: "What if the angel came and i wasn't there?" But i've had plenty of days i showed up and i more or less had to bang on the angel's door.
Before you ask, I didn’t come to this conclusion on a super busy day, but on a free day after a string of super busy days. I felt strangely empty-handed. As if having nothing to do all day but write was sort of meaningless. Less essential, at any rate, than arguing with insurance companies, finding an old tax-related lease, arranging for repairs to the water heater, daily phone call to a sick friend, making appointments, cleaning the poodle’s ears, paying bills, catching up on email, watering the roses, taking books back to the library. . , well,
you get the idea.
Get pen or pencil—your pick, and a pad of paper. Write a list of all those things you absolutely have to change, have to find, have to hide or make ready or throw away, have to tell somebody, have to keep somebody else from telling you, have to do. Write them down so they don’t feel they need to keep yammering at you from the edges of the room you’re sitting in. Add a brief statement about any negative feeling you have about these matters.
For some of us, this will take a few pages.
Somewhere in the process of doing this—somewhere in the second or third year of doing it, we will be reminded that if we die in the course of this day, some, possibly even most of this stuff, won’t even end up on somebody else’s to-do list. It will just fall away.
Write it all down anyway. Put the pages in a drawer. Make a mental picture of shutting it away and make that image in your mind small and dim and blurry. Move it to the lower left corner of the ‘screen,’ and go back to the tablet with a clear mind.
The next page is devoted to the reasons you want to write. This list is considerably shorter, but it should also lift your spirits. Writing that changes someone else’s day for the better, even for one day, is a rewarding thing to do. And if you do it, somebody will some day tell you they celebrate your presence in the world, and you learn that someone will remember you in a way that is meaningful, if only to them.
These are great reasons to write and to get published.
When I taught a course in memoir (which most writing is, truly, however thinly we have rolled the dough of story), I realized that’s why everyone there was writing. Most had little interest in publishing. They were leaving a record for their families to celebrate, to cherish, and to be connected to whenever in their lives they’d need that. These are wonderful reasons to write.
Once your mind is quieted, close your eyes and think about how good it feels to have written. Especially, to have written well. I’m not talking about writing skills, but about having tried to put something on the page that makes someone else understand.
Understand what? Why, anything. Let that feeling flow now.
Let the warmth and authenticity get a good hold on your heart and concentrate on it softly. Breathe it. if you like visualization, make a picture of your eager readers, your glowing reviews, your own happy face, and let these pictures fill the screen, bright and sharp. Let that heartfelt joy grow with each breath until you are filled with how marvelous it makes you feel to have written and written well. Let that balloon expand until even your fingertips feel aglow with the joy of what they are about to do.
Then put pen to paper and write. Make everything you put down a kind of gentle push for understanding, for kindness, for love. Those may not be the subjects you’re writing about, not in terms of events, but it’s why we write, ultimately. It’s what we live for.
Make every word a celebration of that.
Meet the Wednesday Blogateers
First Wednesdays will feature Orel Protopopescu, multi-published award -winning author and poet.
Follow our Blogs!
Join our Tribe
and receive 7 Steps to Creative Happiness, access to free webinars, and lots more!
Your email addresses are always safe and respected with us.