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<<July 2017>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Creativity, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Unlock your creativity

We had a fantastic workshop with Yvette de Beer. The pictures tell the story. The workshop was held in Yvette's lovely home on Witbank Dam where she has a beautiful work room flooded with natural light. We began by painting backing board. Then we were asked to draw characters based on random pieces of driftwood and other natural items. We were asked to juxtapose two characters. We placed these

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2. Autumn Creative Harvest

I love Autumn. Absolutely love it! Every day there seems to be so much incentive to create, explore, start new projects--and the holidays are some of the best. This month I'm trying #InkTober (haven't skipped a day yet!), and next month will see me celebrating NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. I've lost count of how many years I've participated in NaNo, but win or lose it's always been a productive experience.

So besides the chance to try out new pens, journals, sketchbooks and unfamiliar materials, some of my other reasons for being crazy for Autumn include:
  1. The weather is near-perfect, quite a bit cooler than summer, but here in New Mexico we can still wear T-shirts in the afternoon. As far as I'm concerned, there's no better time of year for sitting outside to read, write, or paint--especially as all the bugs have magically disappeared.
  2. Along with the more comfortable temperatures, the autumn scenery is magnificent. Talk about inspiration! The colors are at their absolute best: amethyst, pomegranate, yellow gold, black plum, pumpkin orange, and every shade in between.
  3. The stores are full of "back to school" sales; the discounts on stationery and other supplies are massive. Buy those gel pens! Grab those glue sticks!
  4. Some of the best new movies and books are released in the fall. (Which can also be something of a distraction when you're trying to fill pages with your own work.) But giving yourself a few hours to read or watch a new movie makes a good reward for meeting your daily word count.
  5. The flavors of autumn are so conducive to story-telling: spicy warm drinks, buttery cakes and cookies. Just don't forget to go for a nice long autumn walk to burn off the calories!
  6. Misty, foggy, rainy, nippy: my favorite books and stories have always contained a Gothic ambience that I like to include in my own writing. I can't think of a better time to write than when you're cocooned inside against the elements.
  7. Shorter days mean less time to be outside playing or lounging in the yard, which means I have a little extra time to write or draw every night before dinner or before going to bed.
  8. Although the weather can be a bit colder in the morning, it's not too cold to get up and still write my morning pages in relative comfort.
  9. There's a sweet sense of harvest in the air, making this a great season to examine and appreciate what you've accomplished in the previous months. If you find there are still some items on your goal-list, the good news is we all still have time to catch up before the New Year.
  10. I don't know about you, but I always think sweaters and socks are just cozier to wear while writing. (Especially my cat ones.)
  11. Bonfires. The other day at my writing group I tried to explain my memories of Guy Fawkes and the 5th of November, but I guess you have to be from a British background to understand "A penny for the Guy" and why English and Commonwealth children commemorate a centuries-old attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. No matter; fire pits, barbecues, and Homecoming and Halloween bonfires are good American traditions, too, and there's nothing nicer than toasting marshmallows or tofu-dogs on a moonlit autumn night.
  12. Travel--consider taking your WIP or sketchbook to a new and/or foreign setting. The fares are lower, hotels have more rooms available, and most tourists are back at work or back in school. The only problem is choosing where to go!
Whatever season you prefer, each one, or all four, can become the cornerstone of your creativity: painting a single scene in four versions of summer, fall, spring, winter; or using seasonal transitions when you're trying to invoke a sense of time, place and character in your manuscript. Even jewelry and ceramic work can reflect the changing seasons: blues and greens for summer, reds and oranges for fall. Each time of year has its own associations, many of them unique to our own memories and tastes. For me, it will always be autumn, hence my new Autumn Pinterest board. Enjoy the scenery!

Tip of the Day: How about creating a seasonal sketchbook or journal to record your favorite memories? Try some collage, or use natural elements such as leaves or seashells for printing and stamping. Write or draw on toned paper with colored inks. Make each turn of the year a season to remember.

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3. Break Out of Your Shell!

"Mussel Shells"
Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils
on Canson Pastel Paper
The drawing challenge from my color pencil group this month was to draw seashells. As you can see, I tackled four of them including the inside surfaces. Despite my initial resistance (too hard, too repetitive, not my thing, etc., etc.), I learned a lot from this exercise, much of which can be also be applied to my writing life, starting with practice, practice, practice. 

Thanks to my reluctance to start, I procrastinated like a pro. I answered email, cleaned my house, wrote more poetry; anything to avoid drawing. Finally the day came when I either had to get to work or go to my group empty-handed, aka "being a quitter." Not my favorite option. So with deep misgivings I started in with just one. Hmm. Not so bad. So I tried another. And another. And before I knew it I had drawn all four. Hey, I did it! Which made me realize:
  1. Repetition is valuable. One of the main things holding me back was fear of boredom: how could I draw four similar shells without losing my mind? The truth, however, was very different: first, the shells were NOT similar, and second, by repeating the process several times my technique improved as I got to the last shell. Practice, practice, practice! Whether you want to improve your drawing, write exciting action scenes or learn the intricacies of arranging a pantoum, it takes more than one attempt to get it right.
  2. Don't hide away in your "I can't do it" shell. Rather than setting yourself up for failure by aiming for the most incredible work in the whole of human history, start a dreaded project by drawing or writing in your most basic style: just get some shapes or words down on paper. Once that's done, tweak a little here, add a little there--before you know it your right-brain will be engaged and intrigued with all the possibilities. At this point, I dare you to stop.
  3. Shells make great writing and art journal prompts. The first time I wrote about a seashell in my art journal was an entry about playing with my grandmother's collection of shells from the Gulf of Mexico when I was a little girl. I loved holding those shells to my ear and "listening to the sea." You might have a similar memory, or you might want to write about your first trip to the beach, or your own collection of seaside finds. On the fiction side, including a seashell in a short story, poem, or novel could trigger all sorts of themes, associations, and plot twists--especially if the shell is rare and valuable!
  4. Artwork isn't always about drawing. How about brushing some ink or paint onto a shell and using it as a stamp in your art journal or mixed-media piece? Or pressing a shell into earthen or polymer clay? Drilling a hole into the top of a shell to add to a jewelry piece? Or simply painting and/or collaging the shell itself for a whole new look? 
  5. Using shells for meditation and mindfulness. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, there's something profound about a seashell. Whether it's the patterning, the colors, or just the fact it once housed and protected some small and distant creature, shells make a good start to pondering life's mysteries. Add them to household altars, your writing room or studio, your garden or any other kind of creative sanctuary you like to visit. Personally I like to keep them all over the house in various nooks and crannies. 
Shells have always fascinated me, but that's no reason to take them literally and hide out inside one of my own. The drawing challenge for July is to draw green leaves. I'm so fired-up by the prospect I'm going to start and base an entire art journal on the subject. No hesitation, no holding back, just going for it. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme! 

Tip of the Day: One of the things I love about drawing is how it relaxes and pulls me into what I could almost call a different dimension. Memories; new ideas for writing; the book I'm currently reading: my mind seems to just float along with the tide. While I was working on my seashell piece I was reminded of one of my favorite books that I hadn't thought of for a long time: Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. If you've never read it, or haven't read it for a long time, I can't think of a better text to check out for summer inspiration. Enjoy!

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4. Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Open Expectations: Preparing for an Artist’s Residency: Internal Logistics

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I headed to my first writer’s residency at The Ragdale Foundation at the end of March with an imagined vision of open space, open time, and what I call “open expectations” – no finish line, no deadline, no shoulds or have tos about the challenging revision of my middle grade novel in verse or the small community of artists of which I’d be part.

I knew from experience that gentle, heartfelt, positive guidelines were my best bet for flourishing as a writer and a person. I told myself to:

  1. Trust my needs, my rhythm, what I and my story feel each step forward needs to be, and connect with others as I need and want to, but without pressure that I have to.
  2. Keep my brain open to surprises of all kinds and embrace, enjoy, tolerate, readjust as needed.
  3. Let the residency change me – openness to writing and human surprises has often had this lovely effect on me.

It worked. From a writing and a community perspective, the residency was extraordinary. Among the many meaningful incidents were these:

  • When I’d inserted eighty new verses into my then-current draft, half-hoping for a wonderful and well-organized draft, I found instead an incoherent, fragmented story. At dinner, as we all casually talked about our first day, I said my next days would be dismantling my book, and was glad I had the floor space and time to do it. The luxury of seemingly endless hours was going to be a gift.
  • As I went through the days, dismantling, reassembling, and readying myself for a deep and intense revision, I realized something all of us seemed to say in our end-of-residency summary: It’s not just the number of hours I have, it’s how the hours and the lack of distracting responsibilities allow my brain to open and blossom. I discovered, with this undistracted time, the capacity to work deeply and intensely, giving my unconscious mind the freedom to feed me creative solutions.
  • Many days, I lost any sense of what time it was, whether or not my phone and computer were collecting texts and emails, and occasionally even whether or not I was hungry. My lovely little room, walks on the prairie (even in the snowstorms of a Chicago spring), and conversations with new colleagues fed a brain that seemed wonderfully open to the world, and to my own unconscious.
  • One night early in the residency, instead of returning to work, I decided to join several colleagues to listen to another’s discussion of her volunteer work in a Michigan hospital, gathering bedside stories from in-patients. She played several of the stories for us. I was riveted. I heard an urgency in all the short, impromptu stories. The patients have to choose only one story to tell, my colleague said. I had a visceral response in my chest, home of where my feelings tell me things. One story. Only one story. I have to write Reeni’s story as if it is the only one she gets to tell. That’s where I will find the urgency. And maybe I will find her voice. 
  • The next day I began, sitting on my pillow on the floor with paper and pencil. If it was Reeni’s last day on earth, how would she tell the story? And then I found her voice.

It would have been enough to do the kind of deep writing I did from that day on. But going into the residency with my three guidelines enabled me to do and experience more than that.

I discovered that I am a writer who is able to spend many hours a day working if given the opportunity. That I am a writer who can find and stay in deep connection with my unconscious for more than a few moments at a time. And that I could also enjoy the deep pleasure of becoming part of a supportive, smart, funny, and all-around extraordinary, group of fellow artists.

In my life as writer, therapist, wife, mother, friend I’ve repeatedly found that while attitude is not everything, it is quite a bit. When I enter an experience with gentle and positive expectations, an open mind, and the ability to respond to surprises of any nature, I free myself again to grow, change, and continue the adventure of living.

It’s not necessarily easy. But it’s always worth the effort.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

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5. The Promise of a Writing Maker Space

As I opened my classroom door Friday I knew we would be writing a poem for Mother's Day. I was feeling a bit guilty about the ease and maybe the lack of thought that I had put into the gift this year. As I switched on the lights and straightened books, I thought about Wonderopolis. I entered Mother's Day in the search box and found a wonder on Mother's Day and an invitation to dive into Writing Maker Space!

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6. The Promise of a Writing Maker Space

As I opened my classroom door Friday I knew we would be writing a poem for Mother's Day. I was feeling a bit guilty about the ease and maybe the lack of thought that I had put into the gift this year. As I switched on the lights and straightened books, I thought about Wonderopolis. I entered Mother's Day in the search box and found a wonder on Mother's Day and an invitation to dive into Writing Maker Space!

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7. New Voice: Melanie Conklin on Counting Thyme

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melanie Conklin is the first-time author of Counting Thyme (Putnam, 2016). From the promotional copy:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. 

The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. 

All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision? 

I’m a serious student of revision techniques. Because of my background as a product designer, I’m a very visual thinker, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to approach revision because there are always new challenges to encounter!

Prior to going through the editorial process with Counting Thyme, I had figured out a few things about revision: first, that I thought better on paper. I printed out my manuscript and used different colored post-it flags to track different elements through the document, so that I could find them and also so I could see their distribution and revise to where needed. I had also learned to make an outline of my manuscript before revising, so that I could “see” the whole thing at once.

After I survived the gauntlet of revision-under-deadline, my process had changed in small but significant ways. My editor also works on paper, so I learned to take her pages, punch holes in them, and put them in a binder. This may seem like common sense, but it seriously hadn’t occurred to me to make it easier to flip through the book!

I also learned to note the changes I was confident about directly on the manuscript, and to use full-sized Post-its to write every single guess, question, and thought to myself about anything I hadn’t figured out yet.

Basically, I would distill my editor’s letter, then read through my manuscript while noting any possible solutions on hundreds of Post-its.

Why Post-its? Well, I stick them on the bottom edge of the paper so that they hang off the edge of the manuscript pages, which makes it easy to find the notes again, whereas notes on the paper can get lost.

My outlines evolved, too. Now I outline on note cards, one for each scene, and pin them to a tri-fold board (the greatest invention ever). I generally organize the cards into three acts that form a road map for the manuscript. Again, this makes it easier to visualize the book and its major elements as I work through the planning pass for a revision.

Usually, by the time I’ve read all the way through my manuscript, the best solutions have risen to the surface, and I’ve answered all of my Post-it questions, leaving a bunch of notes ready and waiting. Then it’s just a matter of opening the Word doc and making the actual changes!

Doing a planning pass on the manuscript does add time to your revision, but I’ve found that it saves time overall because you have the freedom to think, explore, and choose, so when you open your Word doc you are full of confidence and can work more quickly.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Obviously, I’m super into the creative process, which applies not just to the act of revision, but to writing in general. I studied English Literature back in college, but it did not occur to me to write books myself until I had quit my job to stay home with my young children for the time being.

I found writing offered the same creative outlet that I’d savored in design, and in many ways my writing process have evolved to mirror my design process.

In product design, the end goal is to get one product on the shelf. To get there, you may throw away hundreds of ideas. But remember, the end goal is one success. I think that mindset has made my approach to writing more flexible, especially when I’m developing a new character or voice.

When I first think of a character, I really explore them. I keep a notebook for each book idea, and in that notebook I let my thoughts run wild. I blab for pages about backstory, then change my mind and cross it out. I turn to a new page and draw the character’s house. I write about their family. About where they live and the hurts they carry. What has changed in their life? What wound keeps them from moving forward? What lesson do they need to learn? How must they grow?

Often, I write the opening chapter of a book quite early in the process, but then I always pause and take this time to expand my ideas before I decide anything. Doing this can help you avoid making boring choices. Generally, the very first idea you have may not be the most original idea possible, depending on how much time you spend brainstorming.

To generate more interesting and original ideas, I like to use lateral thinking techniques—in a nutshell, it’s the idea of picking seemingly disparate ideas and pairing them to gain a new perspective.

For example, you might flip through the dictionary (or any book) and randomly pick a word like “apple.” Then you ask yourself, how is my character like an apple? Are they shiny on the outside, but rotten at the core? Have they weathered storms and survived? Maybe they see the world in slices and are trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the full picture. In this way, introducing a new connection point can lead to some very creative character development.

But the bottom line for me is to trust your writing process. Develop your routines. Nurture your mind by reading widely. Try new techniques, and gather them as your arsenal against deadlines.

Too often, we are rushed and panicking, but cutting corners usually just leads to a big old meltdown.

In my experience, your process will get you there every time—even if that involves writing with a cabbage leaf on your head, which I have done.

Writing is that hard, I know. But if you trust your process, the answers will come.

Cynsational Notes

 See more insights from Melanie on:

"Read nonfiction. Seriously, the weirdest stuff happens in the real world. Sometimes it’s super helpful to step away from your fictional world and flip through a non-fiction book (or watch an hour of NatGeo. Did you know that a blue whale’s heart weighs a thousand pounds?)."

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8. Books that Teach Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration


Creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are critical skills for children to learn so they can succeed in today’s world.

Use the books below and the guided questions to teach these concepts found in each story.

You’ll find a well-known fable told from another culture’s perspective, an inspiring tale about a family working together and the true story of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. To view all the books chosen and to see all the tips and activities suggested for each book, visit the Learn for Life section.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China Translated and illustrated by Ed Young
Lon Po Po

When sisters Shang, Tao and Paotze get a surprise visitor while their mother is away, they have to figure out if it’s really their Po Po (grandmother) who is at the door.

Lon Po Po is about critical thinking and how you can use lots of clues to figure out a problem. Use these questions and ideas to get your child thinking and talking about the story:

  • What clues did the sisters have to figure out
  • The sisters tricked the wolf. Do you think it was right or wrong to trick the wolf? Why or why not? Have you ever tricked someone? What happened?
Home At Last written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Felipe Davalos
Home at Last

The Patiño family moves to the U.S. from Mexico and must learn to speak English and adapt to their new country. Despite some challenges, Ana’s family finds ways to support and encourage one another as they build a new life together.

Home at Last is about communicating and how being able to clearly share your thoughts and needs with others is important to feeling connected. Use these questions and ideas to get your child thinking and talking about the story.

  • Ana and her family learn English when they move to America. Tell me about a time when you learned something new. What happened? How did you feel?
  • Why do you think Mamá doesn’t want to learn English? How did she change her mind?
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

This real-life story shares the life of Tony Sarg, the talented puppet-maker who helped the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade come to life.

Balloons Over Broadway is about using CREATIVITY to build on existing ideas to make something new and different. Use these questions and ideas to get your child thinking and talking about the story.

  • What are some different ways Tony uses his creativity in the story?
  • Tony is always looking at his balloons and making changes so that they work better. Why was it important that he kept improving the balloons? How do you think about making something better?

Developed as a joint project with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and with generous support from Disney, each hand-picked book in the Learn for Life section is paired with a FREE downloadable tip sheet. These tipsheets designed to help you equip the kids you serve with the key 21st century skills they need to thrive in school and in life.

The post Books that Teach Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration appeared first on First Book Blog.

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9. #841 – My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook by Lisa Regan and Andrew Rae

My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook: 50 Awesome Drawing Activities for Young Inventors Written by Lisa Regan Illustrated by Andrew Rae Lawrence King Publishing    9/29/2015 978-1-78067-611-1 128 pages     Ages 8+ “DO YOU HAVE SOME CRAZY INVENTIONS UP YOUR SLEEVE?! “This new doodle book will speak to the imaginative and to future ‘Shark Tank’ contestants …

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10. #838 – The Nonsense Show by Eric Carle

I found out the Toledo Imagination Station is on the finalist list for the 2016 National Medal for Library and Museum Service. One of the other finalists is The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (I would love to visit this museum). Today is Very Hungry Caterpillar Day. What could be more appropriate for this day than a book …

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11. Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Writing In a Dark & Not-So-Quiet Room

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I’m in a cozy, dark room – too warm, and scattered with noises of children’s breathing, soft wordless Beatles’ arrangements, and the burble of the turtle tank filter. It’s nap-time at the early childhood school where I work, and I’m on duty. I’m also working on a major revision for my novel in verse.

It’s an unlikely setting, this child-dense room with documentation of the children’s discoveries through paint, clay, blocks, but between two or more hours at Starbuck’s in the morning and the napping room in the afternoon, I’m making good progress on my revision.

In the not-so-quiet space I sink deeply into my character’s life, where I may hear and feel her anguish and joy without interference from any angst of my own.

For years I struggled with finding the perfect place to write, because something seemed “off” with so many spaces. I found myself writing in short, deep spurts, but I was easily distracted. Too quiet. Too loud.

The thing is, I carried with me so much noise of my own, that almost every place was far from perfect.

Early on in my committed writing journey, I heard the well-known caution to “keep my head down and do the work”. And yet online and off, in informal gatherings and at conferences, the longing to be book-published was front and center. I worked hard, submitted, survived rejections with my learned resilience, and “came close” many times.

Then, about five years ago, unusually distracted and distressed by the new industry policy adapted by so many agents and editors: If you don’t hear from us, assume we’re not interested. If I don’t hear from you by when? I wondered.

The absence of waiting for responses took too great an emotional toll on my resilient self.

So one day I decided to put an end to the situation that troubled me. I challenged the assumption that I would eventually get a book contract. Maybe I wouldn’t. I said it aloud, then asked myself one of the most important questions of my life: Now what?

Now, I am a writer, I answered myself. Now, I keep writing. An emotional gust of wind that blew me away in the best of ways. The relief I felt turned into a joy about writing that opened unimagined possibilities.

Without any expectations of myself other than writing, I gave myself permission to work at all the things I loved – poetry, essays, picture books, and my middle grade novel in verse. I avoided places online and in person where discussions of hoped-for publication abounded. I felt somewhat isolated from a community I’d been involved in, but the benefits were worth it.

Eventually I began submitting again. But I was calmer, even carefree. My queries were more casual, authentic. I had acceptances and rejections – interestingly, with more personal responses to rejections than I’d ever gotten. I was shocked and quietly pleased to find that my middle grade novel in verse was chosen a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize.

My agent took notice of my book from the contest, and the revision process with her has been challenging and immensely pleasurable. I feel a calm, deep pleasure when I when I get an acceptance, an agent, write a verse I’m particularly proud of – instead of the wild excitement I felt years ago when I assumed each step was closer to “success.”

I hope my book is published one day – of course. But success is truly the journey, and how my own strengths meet the challenges of the work.

And, of course, the sweetness in the dark, not-so-quiet room with the sleeping children.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a Finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

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12. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The Unwanteds By Lisa McMann

      In the world of Quill, creativity is bad. It counts as an infraction, and on the day of the Purge, every thirteen year-old is put into three categories: Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds are honored, Necessaries become slaves, and Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.When Alex Stowe is sent to the Death Farm after the Purge, he discovers that being Unwanted doesn't bring death... it brings the discovery of a whole new world called Artime.

       In Artime, creativity is allowed. Even encouraged. The wild-haired leader, Mr. Today, helps each artistic Unwanted learn that they can hold their title like a badge. Because in Artime, creativity is a magical gift... and a weapon.

       It's the first book in the Unwanted Series, and I am so excited for the last one to come out in April! If you like dystopian novels and magic, then you should totally try this book out!


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13. Doing Less, Better

By Nick Cross

A month ago, I wrote the following on the wall of our top-secret Notes from the Slushpile hideout:

In the last week, I have:
  • Attended two book launches
  • Edited a 1500 word story down to 1000 words for the next issue of Stew Magazine
  • Formatted and scheduled next week's Alphabet Soup article and started work on the week after
  • Commissioned two more Alphabet Soup articles
  • Written a Slushpile blog
  • Worked full-time for 5 days
So why do I constantly feel like I'm not doing enough?
Why indeed? The Slushpile team were supportive in their replies (apart from Candy Gourlay who I trust was joking when she called me a lazy man!). But for me, the inherent problem lay in that final question. Why wasn't I satisfied with what I'd done, and what did I need to do to make sure that I was?

That led me to take a hard look at my own beliefs. For years, I believed that the more busy I was, the more I would get done. But what if that wasn't true? What if I could get better results and more satisfaction by doing less?
Read more »

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14. "But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being?"

John Eliot Gardiner, from Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Preface):
A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person. At best this can make them unusually tolerant of his faults, which are there for all to see: a certain tetchiness, contrariness and self importance, timidity in meeting intellectual challenges, and a fawning attitude toward royal personages and to authority in general that mixes suspicion with gain-seeking. But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual. In some cases there may be such correspondence, but we are not obliged to presume that it is so. It is very possible that "the teller may be so much slighter or less attractive than the tale." [source] The very fact that Bach's music was conceived and organized with the brilliance of a great mind does not directly give us any clues as to his personality. Indeed, knowledge of the one can lead to a misplaced knowingness about the other. At least with him there is not the slightest risk, as with so many of the great Romantics (Byron, Berlioz, Heine spring to mind), that we might discover almost too much about him or, as in the case of Richard Wagner, be led to an uncomfortable correlation between the creative and the pathological.

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15. Creativity: Hope for the Neurodiverse Tribe

Hi folks,  Did you grow up being called the weird one? Was the teasing because you were "a different" that was off the charts? Are you a member of the neurodiverse tribe?

Here's the deal. The neurodiverse outlier faces a tough world. She is labeled (lazy, procrastinator, excessive talker, disorganized, rebellious, poor listener, challenging), shamed (you don't try, you don't care, you're disrespectful, stupid, weirdo) and failed (F for you). I am speaking from experience here. Shake hands, I'm a member of the neurodiverse tribe.

Here is a picture of my life. I'm intelligent but you may be interested to know that I am minimal student. I've failed so many classes that I have lost count.  Note, just because I failed didn't always mean I didn't learn the subject. It generally means that I was stressed out about the tests and projects. I couldn't answer the questions fast enough, or I had a tough time managing my schedule again (i.e I'd forget I had that class until it was too late -- stupid rules). Note: I make As if I'm really crunching on a subject.

I find that it is best for me to learn one subject at a time, with school it is always five at a time or more. I avoid school because there is no place in the world will kick the confidence out of me like a school room. Now to make you laugh, I love to learn. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. I want to know stuff. I read like crazy. I'm always learning new stuff. I do Khan Academy lessons for fun. The internet is my friend. There is a picture, video, or blog for that. Beyond that I like to read books, attend lectures, and go to places. I am always tucking stuff inside me.

I have the same problem of all the neurodiverse: I lack this so called "self control." Let's be clear about self control -- I arrive late often. I have trouble keeping my sleeping schedule on 8 to 5 system. I tend to make As in subjects I like. I get super focused and tend to forget things. I burn up about one pan per month. The sink overflows sometimes. Note, I'm not lazy, I'm just not working according to the "rules" whatever they are. Yes, this makes people very angry: I'm traumatized like every neuro-diverse person on the planet.

Now for the creative angle. Creativity is hope in the neurodiverse (Pandora's)box. I'm a creative soul. It seems to ooze out of my pores. I sometimes wish that I could be here with Vincent Van Gogh. We could commiserate about people not getting us.  Creativity is currency for me. I think in ways that other people don't. My mind will not give up. Even if I give up, my creative soul will come to my rescue. Creativity is a geyser within like Old Faithful. It keeps spewing stuff regularly. No efforts from me needed. It makes me optimistic against all odds. It lifts me up when I can't lift myself. Remember that if you are neurodiverse.

I hope this brought some happiness to your creative soul. I believe a day will come when the world make room for the neurodiverse tribe. We will stop trying to drug it or fix it and just accept that some of us march to the beat of a different drummer. Then we will make room for the differences.

Next month, I will be back with a new series.  Yay!

Here is a doodle. A Troubling...

We are NOT average people – we are not satisfied to just do what we are told, or to do the same job for the rest of our lives without loving what we do.
Arriane Benefit

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16. Creativity: Get out of the box.

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series on creativity. This is 3 of 4. I had a fun program at Covenant Presbyterian Church and thank every one who came out to participate.

Here is my official definition of creativity: out of the box thinking that defies norms, redefines the status quo, and stands the test of time.

So what is this box? And how do you get out of it? The box. This box is plain cardboard and it doesn't hold anything but uniformly-shaped items. The box is all about norms, status quo, and the fad thinking of the moment.

Do you ever challenge yourself? I mean it. How do you challenge yourself? Here is an experiment. Let go of a closely held belief and play the other side. You are a devout Christian. Let it go for a minute and put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not have this belief. What about a dyed in the-wool-Democrat? Let go of your thinking and inhabit the mind of Trump supporter for a minute. Your eyes will open wider and see more. You might find the creative answers to some troubling questions.

Do you ever pull up your tent stakes? Have you camped in your life. Life is a temporary situation. You are just passing through. Have you gotten comfortable? Regardless of how safe and sound you feel, you are dwelling in temporary housing that is very flimsy.  One way to get out of your nice safe box is to pull up your tent stakes.  Go somewhere. Open yourself up to new kinds of people. Go hang out with those tax collectors. Stop vilifying people who are not like you and hang out with them until you see their humanity.

Do something that will never fit in a box. Break some rules. Consider options that just don't fit you. Stretch yourself in new directions. If you are a mountain climber, take a evening and be a video game. Whatever is outside the box of your life, do that. Go somewhere unexpected. Make a friend that you would not in a million years be friends with. Cook something that just sounds weird. Volunteer in a way that makes you shake in your boots.  See what happens.

Yes. Get out of the box.  The choice will infuse your life with creativity. I hope you come back next week for the last of this Creativity series.

Here is a doodle for you.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of majority, it is time to pause and reflect.  Mark Twain.

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17. Creativity: The Whole Brain and Making My Bed

Hi folks, I'm writing about creativity for the month of February. I have a speaking engagement coming up; deets at the end of this post. This week I'm debunking a myth about the creativity being a right-brained activity for manic artists and how poor left-brained people are basically OCD and dull as dogs.

I'm a creative person and I know that most creative people I know are some of the organized folks in existence.  I find that to truly be creative I have to systematic about my work and very well organized. Creativity does not happen in my life without my left-brain giving my right-brain some serious limits. As far as I can tell creativity needs my whole brain to work. I'm not a neuro-scientist, but I am freakishly observant. Imagination has to reined in. Day dreaming must lead to production, or it leads to nothing. Deep thoughts about the meaning of everything are basically useless if I don't make them actionable.

So here is the secret of creativity. Light up your whole brain. If you feel that lack creativity, your brain is out shape--kind of like you play video games all day and now have muffin tops on your muffin tops because your physical body is languishing. It took me a long time to admit that my left brain was seriously neglected, and that if I didn't give it some attention, I was never going to do a creative thing with my life.  So my journey into creativity started with this: I disciplined myself to make my bed every day. It seems like a small thing but it transformed my creative process.

I learned that making my bed was a small success for everyday that I could count on. Over time I appreciated that my life was filled with one complete success every day. Even the process of making the bed became important -- the economy of motion, the tightness of the sheets, and the arrangement of the pillows.  Routine in my everyday life, helped me establish routine in my creative endeavors. I have found greater balance and my work thanks me.

What!  I know this bed-making thing is counter-intuitive. Secret: You must be counter-intuitive as much as you are intuitive to do excellent creative work.  If you are right-brained person, seek left brain activities.  Don't go crazy, just mix some in.  If you are a left-brained person, you are annoying everyone with talk of your big imaginative endeavors and your lack of even doing one thing that will bring these endeavors to life.

So there you have it. Day-dreamers, make your bed.  Bed makers, take a cup of tea and stare out the window and dream.  I hope, my friends, that you find that innovation is flooding what ever you do.  Drop by next week for more on creativity. Need a creative jolt, come to my talk:

This creativity series is conjunction with a talk that I will be offering at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 6:15. It's a weekly program they offer called Onederful Wednesday. I will lead a workshop called Divining Creativity. Here are a few of the things I will dig into -- What is holding you back? What will push you forward? What will make you leap? This should shake down the cobwebs and open all the windows. Come out if you are interested. It's free. P.S. There is a meal at 5:15 p.m. and it costs $5.00 person and $20 for families. Call this number to RSVP if you are interested: 979-694-7700.

Here is a doodle: Two trees. 

A quote for your pocket

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. Pablo Picasso

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18. A Book for Passionate Creators + a Giveaway

Have you lost your muse? Create Now is the kind of book you need to help you transform your creative process and get you inspired to write.

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19. #767 – Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas

Blue Whale Blues Written and Illustrated by Peter Carnavas Kane Miller       9/27/2015 978-1-61067-458-4 32 pages      Ages 4—8 “When Penguin hears Whale singing the blues, he tries to help. But how exactly do you stop a blue whale from feeling blue? A delightful story about a whale with bike trouble and …

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20. #768 – Crow Made a Friend by Margaret Peot (Giveaway)

Crow Made a Friend Series: I Like to Read® Written and Illustrated by Margaret Peot Holiday House     9/15/2015 978-0-8234-3297-4 24 pages     Ages 4—8 “Crow was alone. He had a plan. He tried and tried and tried to make a friend. If you like to read, you will like this book.” [back …

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21. Shower Thoughts: The Art of Finishing

A long time ago, before I was telling my stories with illustrations and words, I was a telling them through the use of moving pictures, I was an aspiring filmmaker.

It all started when a friend and I decided we would be the next Tarantino; break out filmmakers, creating cutting edge film. But instead of spending thousands of dollars on film school, we took what little money we had and we were going to do it guerilla style, the indie way.

In the next few months, we drafted a screenplay, auditioned actors, scouted locations, purchased equipment and started filming. We even came up with a hollywood sounding name for our troupe, “The Yuzzi Brothers.” And since we couldn’t take a few months out of our day jobs to make the movie, we wrote a story that took place at night. It would be one of the most intense times of my life. We typically filmed from 8pm to 3am, with just enough sleep to go to work that same morning. Caffeine had become my best friend. A year later, we finally finished our movie and showed it in theaters, in all its flawed glory.

Looking back at the romanticized version of those events, I could honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. We learned a lot about ourselves and about the industry, yet it was not without its challenges. We had actors & crew members who dropped out, our equipment was stolen, myriad of technical issues, schedule conflicts and even injuries. And when you’re on the 8th month of a production, you start to question yourself and your project (or your spouse would). We could have easily given up at any point, but we did not. We kept telling ourselves that we needed to finish.

Starting something new is exciting & fun. And let’s be honest, it’s probably the easiest part. The endless daydreaming of a new project gives us a sense of euphoria. But once the tire hits the pavement and the daily grind of our life gets in the way, that’s when we’re really tested. Self-doubt begins to manifest and we start looking for the off-ramp. We question our ideas, we procrastinate, we revise endlessly. We’re stuck in a never ending loop between unlived expectations and our limited abilities to meet them.

It’s only natural we should strive for perfection. But perfection is that golden goose that if you look at it long enough, it turns into an ugly duckling. That is, in fact, an important part of what makes us creatives. And as we grow and get better, we look back at our work and see the flaws. Yet it’s also important not to get stuck, to keep moving forward, to finish. That is how we grow. I know artists who actually don’t start anything, fearing that the end result will never live up to their expectations. It’s quite unfortunate.

When I feel dismayed, I go back to the reasons why I started. It’s much like reminiscing about my carefree childhood days. Everything seemed possible. I look for that seed of inspiration and use it to re-ignite my inner locomotive.

Sometimes, I realize that I am at that moment in my life incapable of telling the story or drawing that picture. I simply lack the life experience or skills to do so. This doesn’t mean that my idea is lost in the woods, never to be seen. It just means that I can put it in my back pocket and come back to it later. And trust me, I have many of those.

When we were working on our movie, there were so many variables that was ultimately out of our control. We relied on so many people, and to be able to keep it going for a year, and to finish was quite a miraculous thing.

Contrasting that to my current endeavor of writing and illustrating, where everything is really on my shoulders, gives me a unique perspective and set of expectations. I really have no excuse not to finish. It’s all on me. And If I have to spend time away from my family to work on my craft, then I better make it count.

Finishing is important. Once you’ve experienced completing a project that you’ve poured your life into, you stand among the few who have “made it.” You can tip your fedora to the naysayers and show them that you’ve done what you’ve set out to do. You’ve kept your word, your promise; even if it’s just to yourself.

Those who finish are the ones who inspire me the most, because I know how hard it is to get to that point. Not everyone can be a breakout overnight success, but we can sure break out of our walls and create something amazing, and it all starts with mastering the art of finishing.

So put on that thinking cap, adjust your monocle, get a jug of coffee, and dust off that manuscript or picture book. It’s calling your name.

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22. Creativity tip: Take the time to look at the world a different way

A creative tip for writers and illustrators: Every so often, take the time to look at things around you differently than you normally would. Sounds like a glib cliché, I know, but I encourage you to really give it a shot. When I'm walking through a familiar area or doing something I've done a zillion times before, I tend to take my surroundings for granted. Every once in a while, I force myself to stop and really look at something or someone. I mean really LOOK. If I have the time, I sketch or write about it in my notebook. If I only have a few minutes, like when I'm waiting in a grocery line, then I make it a mental exercise. I also do this through my found object art and encourage young people to do found object art for the same reason.

Since I consciously started doing this, I have found my work showing the benefits. I'm sharing this tip here in hopes that it might help some of you as well.

How you can apply this principle in your illustrations: Before settling on a way of illustrating a scene, experiment with different perspectives and other ways of interpreting the text. Feel free to use one of my brainstorming templates. Do more art just for the fun of it to keep yourself from falling into a rut. Doodle, experiment. Remind yourself you don't have to show anyone what you're drawing.

How you can apply this principle in your writing: Avoid describing people and things in clichéd phrases ("she was fit as a fiddle" etc.), take the time to make your characters and stories unique, don't chase trends. Carry around a notebook and jot down phrases, descriptions, ideas, names. Brainstorm. Write every day; it doesn't have to be for a book project or something you want to get published. Write for FUN. Experiment with poetry (you don't have to show anyone); I find writing poetry makes me more conscious of word choice and the sound of the words. Read what you write out loud; read in a different voice, at different speeds.

Do you have your own creativity boost techniques? Feel free to share them below in the comments.

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23. Julie and Stephanie’s Writing Lessons Learned from Star Wars

Hi, Julie here! In anticipation of the opening of The Force Awakens, Stephanie Garber and I have teamed up to bring you a post on writing lessons we’ve learned from Star Wars! These are all taken from little-known, fun facts about the movies we found compiled in a great article called 37 Things You Might Not Know about Star Wars. From those 37 things, we’ve chosen seven we feel contain great lessons on the craft of writing.

Stephanie first! Here are four writing lessons she’s learned from Star Wars:

Lucas’s Initial Draft of The Script Was Too Long

This worked out for Lucas, who was able to trim his original script and use the excess for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but before this happened his screenplay was rejected by multiple studios. If Lucas hadn’t been an Academy Award nominee, who knows, Star Wars might have been rejected again by 20th Century Fox, and then the world would have never known the greatness that is Star Wars.

So, don’t let the world miss out on your literary masterpiece because it’s too long. When a manuscript is significantly longer than the standard word count for its category, it can betray an underlying problem with either the writing or the story. If your manuscript is only slightly longer than average, see where you can trim extraneous words and sentences. If it’s significantly longer than the norm, it might be a sign you have unnecessary scenes, or too much going on in your story.

Alec Guiness didn’t want to be in The Empire Strikes Back because it was “fairy-tale rubbish”

As a fantasy writer, I’ve felt people haven’t always taken me seriously purely based on my genre. What makes me even sadder, I’ve seen some of my creative writing students embarrassed to share their work because they don’t want their peers to judge them—I’ve witnessed this happen to students who write a variety of genres. I’ve also noticed that my students who feel embarrassed really hold back from taking their stories as far as they could go, out of fear that others will see how deeply they love what they are writing. As a result these stories are never as strong as they could be.

But the truth is, people want to read stories where the author doesn’t hold back. Love is infectious, so I suggest putting all your passion into your stories—don’t hold back out of fear that people will judge you. Because in all honestly, people may judge you and that is their mistake to make—like Sir Alec Guiness.

Han Solo’s Best Line was an Ad Lib

This continues to be my favorite fun fact from Star Wars. During The Empire Strikes Back, right before Han Solo is frozen in carbonite Leia tells him, “I love you.” Originally Han was supposed to respond with, “I love you too,” but instead, Harrison Ford changed the dialogue to, “I know.”

This line is not only highly entertaining, it helps to define Han Solo’s character. It can be easy to give characters lines that anyone can say, such as, “I love you too.” But if you go back through you manuscript and change those lines to things that only your character could say, you will not only have stronger characters, your book will be much more entertaining.

Vadar’s Big Reveal in The Empire Strikes Back was Kept Secret From Nearly Everyone

I believe this was done to keep spoilers from leaking out. However, when I read this fun fact it inspired me to share something I enjoy doing as writer. I love keeping secrets from myself. For example, I might know that at some point my main character is going to be faced with the two things she wants most, but I try to never figure out which one she is going to choose, which not only makes it more fun for me to write—because I honestly don’t know what will happen—this also prevents me from falling into the trap of having my main character make plot based choices. Instead I get to dive into scenes with her and see what she does based on her ARC and current emotional state.

I love your four lessons, Stephanie! (I especially loved the one about Sir Alec Guiness!) Here are three writing lessons I’ve learned from Star Wars:

Lucas was Inspired by Akira Kurosawa For The Story’s POV

George Lucas has said that he was inspired by the POV used by Akira Kurosawa in his film The Hidden Fortress. Apparently, in that film, Kurosawa reveals the story through two of the lowest characters. Lucas applied this technique when he let Star Wars unfold through the perspective of the two droids.

The lesson I take from this is that Lucas studied the work of masters and applied what he learned. He saw a technique that worked and wondered what effect that technique would have on Star Wars. We can all do this. Maybe you’ve read a novel in verse and found it moving. Maybe a book written in present tense struck you with its immediacy. Don’t hesitate to try a range of writing techniques to see what works best for your story.

Theaters Didn’t Want to Show the Movie

When the original Star Wars movie was ready for distribution, fewer than forty theaters agreed to book it. A different film from 20th Century Fox, The Other Side of Midnight, (based on a bestselling book,) was in high demand instead. Consequently, the studio required theaters that showed Midnight to also show Star Wars.

Contrary to what the theater owners expected, Star Wars became the hit and The Other Side of Midnight was a big disappointment. But the theater owners wanted to go with the movie based on a bestseller because it was safe. Sometimes this happens in publishing too—sometimes books get buzz because they follow a trend or are similar to a hit book—but don’t let this influence your writing. Audiences and readers respond to stories, not trends. Write the best story you can write. Write a story you connect with, and others will connect with it, too.

Han Solo was Supposed to Die

When Han Solo is frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the filmmakers didn’t know if the character would live or die because Harrison Ford had only signed on for two movies. The lesson I find here is that you need to stay flexible with your story. Consider all options for your characters! Let your characters grow, and if they make choices that are more interesting than what was in your outline, follow their lead! Stay open to new developments on the page.

So those are seven writing lessons Stephanie Garber and I have learned from Star Wars. We’re sure there are many more! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments—on these lessons or any others!


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24. Why I Love Writing (and Drawing) in Cafes

This past weekend found me in two cafes: Saturday drawing and painting in the Albuquerque History Museum cafe, and Sunday writing with my writer's group in a bookstore coffee shop. Bliss! 

Ever since I first read Natalie Goldberg's advice in Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind about writing in cafes, I've been hooked on following her example. I can't think of a better environment than a cozy--and often noisy--cafe to help writers and artists at all levels relax, focus, and get some work done all at the same time. It's a practice I've been following for years, and one I've come to rely upon to get me out of the house and filling the blank page. 

Some of my top reasons for choosing cafes over, say, the library or the laundromat as a makeshift office/studio include:

1. As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. And the cafe scene is always changing.

2. Someone else makes the coffee.

3. You have instant “material.” All those strange people sitting around chatting, arguing, reading, slurping . . .

4. You get used to writing with distractions and even a certain amount of discomfort. Great for learning to switch off from the "real world" and concentrate on the project at hand.

5. Discipline. You’ve made the effort to travel all this way, so stay there!

6. Ritual. Same place + same time = familiar and comforting routine.

7. Writing by hand is good for the heart and soul.

8. Or if you prefer, plug in. Many cafes have free WiFi, great for the budget-conscious.

9. If you're close enough to a local cafe, you can walk there. An excellent workout!

10. You can buy yourself a treat for “good behavior” and pages written. (And it doesn't have to be cake. If you're in a bookstore, museum, or gift shop cafe, how about a new book, magazine, pen, or journal?)

11. You have the opportunity to hold meetings with other artists and writers without using--or cleaning--your house.

12. Busily working away in your journal or sketchbook in public sends the message that you are a Professional, helping you to be exactly what you want to be.

Tip of the Day: Writing or drawing surrounded by a crowd can sometimes be daunting. To overcome any shyness or self-consciousness you may feel, especially if you're a newbie to cafe creativity, try sitting with your back to the wall. That way no one can easily look over your shoulder--something people love to do when you're sketching. (It's taken me a long time to simply smile and keep going whenever that happens. And believe me, they soon get bored and leave.) Another tip is to use a journal or sketchbook with a firm fold-over cover so you can write or draw while the book is propped on your lap rather than on the table, a good way to maintain your privacy and confidence. Latte, anyone?

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25. Guest Post: Shelley Pearsall on The Importance of Vision

from the real Hampton's Throne
By Shelley Pearsall
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I worry a lot about vision.

As a forty-something woman (okay, close to fifty), my vision seems to be diminishing on a daily basis. Cheap pairs of Walmart reading glasses are scattered through every room in my house – and still, I can’t seem to find a pair when I need them.

But I worry more about the vision of the next generation. Not their eyesight as much as their ability to see the possibilities in things. Their creative vision. The desire to look around, notice stuff, and wonder about it…

On a recent train ride into New York City, I sat next to a twenty-something woman who checked her iPhone every three minutes without fail. In between, she dozed. But she never once peered through the window next to her seat. Not one single glance.

How could she ignore the outside world so completely, I wondered? How could she be content to miss everything zooming by? Wasn’t she curious about something beyond her tiny screen – the people on the platform, or the bustling neighborhoods, or heck…even the random stray cat on the random gritty windowsill?

Maybe I’m on this vision kick because I’ve spent so much time lately thinking about the idea and writing about it.

My new novel, The Seventh Most Important Thing (Knopf, 2015) is about the importance of vision…of being able to see the possibilities around us. Written for ages 10 and up, the novel follows the unlikely friendship between an angry, young teen named Arthur Owens, and a solitary trash picker named James Hampton.

Without spoiling too much of the story, I can tell you that James Hampton is a man who truly sees the possibilities in what everyone else overlooks or discards. Vision is vital to his work -- things like used light bulbs, foil, coffee cans, and cardboard boxes become something entirely different in his hands.

Since the idea of looking below the surface of things is so central to the story, I designed the plot and the characters as a series of layers too. The deeper that readers delve into those layers, the more surprises there are. What they think they know at the beginning of the book, may be much different than what is true at the end.

Writing the novel has caused me to focus more on “vision” in my work with student readers and writers in schools. On a recent school visit, I held up a silver CD disc and asked the audience what it could be…

from the real Hampton's Throne
“A CD disc” was the first answer.

(It is always the first answer.)

“I’m not asking what the object is,” I countered. “I’m asking what it could be….”

Eventually, the ideas began to flow: angel’s halo, crown, spectacles, flat donut, steering wheel, one of Saturn’s rings…

So, here’s my challenge for you today: Put away the technology for a few minutes. Look at an everyday object nearby.

Really notice all the details.

Let your mind roam. Think of all the creative possibilities it could be and give your own “vision” a chance to soar.

Oh, and if you are on a train, at least look out the window and notice the cat…

Shelley's writing space

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