I recently took up bird watching. It’s been fascinating to walk around with my camera and capture fleeting images of birds I’d regularly overlooked until now. They’re there for an instant . . .
. . . then they’re gone.
I recently realized that bird watching is a lot like writing. When I began writing, I slowly started paying attention to my thoughts, just as I later began noticing and capturing the image of birds with my camera. As we go about our day, all of us experience an endless stream of thoughts. We think about where we are going and what we are doing. We form instantaneous opinions about all sorts of things that happen around us.
Before I began writing, these opinions or conclusions zipped through my brain and I forgot them just as quickly. When I began writing, however, I realized certain thoughts were the inklings of stories. For example, many years ago I noticed a four-year-old child starting to wail in the “Sunbeam” class at church. As I stood in the back of the room, what instantly flashed in my mind was, Boy, he doesn’t want to be a Sunbeam, does he? Instead of letting it go, however, I realized this was the essence of a story. I wrote “Petey Didn’t Want to be a Sunbeam” and was delighted when it sold.
When my daughter was young, she used to love dogs. Whenever we encountered a dog, she wanted to pet it. One day, when she was asking to pet yet another passerby’s dog, the thought occurred to me that I wouldn’t be the type of mother she would pick. If she could, my daughter would pick a mother that loved dogs and had lots of dogs. This idea became the basis for a personal essay that I sold to the The Sacramento Bee.
When I checked out a library book about French scientist Léon Foucault and read that he invited his scientific peers to “come see the earth turn,” I instantly saw that as a spread in a picture book.
Here’s to capturing those fleeting thoughts--and pictures of a few birds too!
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than three dozen fiction and nonfiction books. A writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for eight years, Lori is a frequent speaker at schools and SCBWI conferences and is represented by Eden Street Literary in New York. Recent picture book titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg (Clarion), named one of Amazon's Best Picture Books of the Year, 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). Learn more about Lori and her books at www.lorimortensen.com.
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