Experiment with new genres to rediscover your creative joy.
By Christin Ditchfield
When did I start to dread writing? When did it become work – the kind you talk about with a groan or sigh? The kind that makes tackling a sink full of dirty dishes or a basket of laundry sound like an appealing alternative? Please, I’ll do anything… just don’t make me write!
I couldn’t believe it, when I found myself in this place a few years ago. Completely burned out. Growing up, I was the girl just like Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing. Pages and pages and pages. I absolutely loved it! I spent every free moment creating poems and plays and short stories, dreaming up characters to populate the novels I was sure I would write some day.
As a grown-up, after nearly ten years teaching preschool and elementary school, I was finally “living the dream” – actually making my living as a freelance writer. Being offered more assignments than I could possibly take on, in addition to the projects of my own inspiration. But somewhere along the way, I lost my love of writing. I lost my creative joy. I lost the excitement and the enthusiasm.
Maybe it was all that deadline pressure… Or the pressure to succeed – and keep on succeeding… Maybe I had too many irons in the fire… Maybe I took on too many projects that I wasn’t really passionate about. But you’ve gotta eat! There are bills to pay. When writing becomes your primary source of income, you almost have to say “Yes!” to everything. Exhibit A: I am the author of a book on dirt. Seriously. It’s called Soil. You can check it out in the children’s department at your local library. While you’re there, look up my book on wrestling. Again – seriously.
However it happened, when the thought of writing made me miserable – and the thought of doing dishes seemed a welcome escape – I knew something had to change. I finished up the projects I was working on and declared myself “on sabbatical” for the summer. I told my friends and family that for the first time in a long time, I was going to write something just for fun. Just for me. Just for the thrill of challenging myself to do something new and different.
After giving it some thought, I decided that – having written a lot of nonfiction for children and adults – I really wanted to try a picture book. I thought about the books I loved reading as a child, books I still love to this day. The books I loved reading to my preschool classes years ago. Yes, I want write something like that!
Just because you’ve learned to write (and even been published) in one genre doesn’t mean you know how to write in another. I realized there were some things I needed to learn. So I pored over how-to books, especially the classic Writing and Illustrating Children’s Book’s for Publication by Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben. Like a beginner – which in this genre, I was – I carefully noted the experts’ instructions and advice. I took the time to complete the recommended writing exercises. Then I started searching for a story.
One day I happened to catch the startled look on my nephew’s face when his grandfather (my dad) complimented him on his impressive cowlick. It got me thinking: If you had never heard the word “cowlick” before, what would you think it meant? Could it be evidence that a friendly cow had come to your bedside in the night to lick you? Slurrrpp!
With that, my picture book idea was born. I spent hours playing with the idea, playing with the words and images that came to me, the story and the characters. It was so much fun! I felt energized and excited again. I rediscovered my love for writing. And the icing on the cake: my creative experiment – Cowlick! -- was published by Random House in 2007. Since then, I’ve made it a regular part of my writing life to set aside some time to play – time to experiment with a new project, a new genre, a new adventure! Of course, most of these projects don’t end up being published, but some of them do. And even the ones that don’t still have value. Something good always comes from the process – a fresh perspective, some new ideas, even lessons learned. The old cliché is really true: You don’t know what you can do, until you try!
If you’re feeling burned out or stuck in a rut – or if you’ve hit a roadblock in your current project that you can’t seem to break through – switch genres. Try a different project just for fun. For the love of writing. For the joy of creating something new.
Here are some simple steps to get you started:
1. Brainstorm and come up with a list of genres you’d like to try. Spend a couple of hours wandering around your local bookstore with a cup of coffee in hand and see what catches your eye. Or browse your own bookshelves. There are so many possibilities! Which ones excite you? Which ones scare you? Which ones dare you?
2. Narrow it down. Choose one style or genre to experiment with this time, and save the rest for later.
3. Do your homework. As an introduction (or a refresher) read at least four or five other books – preferably bestsellers – in the genre you’ve chosen. Research how-to books and articles on writing in this genre. You can even glean information on the typical length and format by visiting publishers’ websites and reviewing their submissions guidelines. If this seems too much like “work” to you, if you think it will shut down your creativity, you can skip this step for now. I find that learning new things inspires me. This step gives me a place to start, something to do besides staring at a blank page, waiting for creativity to strike.
4. Keep an inspiration notebook. Jot down story ideas or subjects that interest you, especially those that might be a good fit for the genre you want to try. Have fun with this! Turn off your inner editor and think way outside the box. Include clippings from newspapers or magazines, photos, cartoons, and other images that inspire you.
5. Set some goals for yourself. Once you have an idea, decide how many hours a day or a week you want to devote to “playing around” with this project. (Let’s not call it work, although, in one sense, it is – meaningful work, restorative work.) If it helps you to follow through, you can be even more specific and decide how many words or chapters you’d like to have written by a particular date.
Then get to work – I mean play! Rediscover your love for writing today!
Christin Ditchfield is the author of hundreds of nonfiction columns, essays, and magazine articles, and sixty-six books – many of them for children and families, including Cowlick! (Random House, 2007) She is currently experimenting with her first YA fantasy novel.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN… was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and spent a peripatetic childhood (following her Professor father and architect mother) living in California, The Netherlands, Istanbul, Turkey (where she went to high school), Washington D.C. and Oregon.
She attended college at Wellesley in Massachusetts (with her junior year of study done at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire). After graduating, Holly went to New York City and took a job at Grey Advertising answering phones and writing at night and on weekends (and when no one was paying attention to what she was doing at work).
A year later she had moved to Los Angeles where she sold her first screenplay at the age of twenty-four to Paramount Pictures. Holly continued to write, but supported herself for the next ten years by working in commercial advertising as a production assistant, then a script supervisor, a producer, and finally as a commercial director.
The year 1982 was a big year for Holly, because that was also when she got married to Chuck Sloan. They were married for ten years, and had two sons. While their marriage didn't work out, their friendship did. Holly is certain that none of the things that she has achieved would have been possible without his support.
Holly has written eight successful family feature films, three for the Walt Disney Company, including the baseball classic Angels in the Outfield, and the soccer movie, The Big Green, which she also directed (filmed in Austin, Texas). She also wrote the Universal Pictures comedy Made in America starring Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson and Will Smith, and the late Steve Irwin’s feature film for MGM: Collision Course: The Crocodile Hunter Movie.
Holly wrote and directed the children’s film Heidi 4 Paws where she put dogs in costumes in all of the roles of the famous children’s story. This film used the voice talent of Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea, Richard Kind, Majandra Delfino, and Julian Sands and recently aired on Public Television in the United States and Canada. For more information about Heidi 4 Paws, CLICK HERE.
The mother of two sons, Holly lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband, writer Gary Rosen. She is a sports fan, loves to cook (she is a contributing editor for Amy Ephron’s food blog, ONE FOR THE TABLE), and she has never met a dog she didn’t find captivating.
Holly considers her book I'll Be Thereto be the most rewarding thing she's ever done in her work life. She believes a perfect day to be one where she writes in the morning, takes a long walk by the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon, and she spends the evening with her family and friends around her large dining room table.
She likes to fall asleep reading a good book.
Gary's bio, in his own words:
I am a screen and television writer who always doodled. Who knew that I would illustrate a book when I was in my 50s? It's never too late to try something new!
I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. I went to high school there (Birmingham) and I graduated from UCLA with a degree in History.
I love the movies, and started collecting movie posters when I was a kid. I started my career in entertainment working in the shipping room at Universal Pictures. I got my first big break when I was hired to work in film editing, and my second big break when a director thought I was funny. He asked me to write jokes and off-camera lines for his film. I later was hired by the same movie studio to write a screenplay and then many episodes of television. I co-wrote the movie MAJOR PAYNE, and I've directed a movie, and written for many television shows, including 21 JUMP STREET, and BEVERLY HILLS 90210.
I started drawing pictures of possums and my wife wrote a book about them. We live in Santa Monica, California, and until recently we had two rescue dogs, but they have gone on to dog heaven.
I love to play basketball, watch basketball, and think about basketball. I have one brother who is a non-fiction writer. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey. I eat a hamburger almost every day, and I love my family.
Remember to visit Holly and Gary's websites!
Check Britta Teckentrup's How to make… an autumnal owl collage!
Britta Teckentrup is an award winning illustrator, author and fine artist. She was born in Hamburg, growing up in a town called Wuppertal
She moved to London in 1988 to study illustration and fine art at St Martin's College and the Royal College of Art.
Britta is the author and illustrator of many well-loved books for children, including the bestselling 'The Memory Tree', 'The Odd One Out' and 'Grumpy Cat',
which was selected by the Booktrust's Bookstart scheme - 250,000 copies to be distributed to families throughout the UK.
Britta has written and illustrated over 80 children's picture books which have been published in over 20 different countries.
Her fine art work has been frequently exhibited at her London gallery and at art fairs all over the world.
After 17 years in the UK - Britta now lives and works in Berlin with her scottish husband, son Vincent and their old cat Oskar.
Don't forget to visit Britta's website!
Friday, October 30, 2015
Ammi-Joan Paquette's bio, in her own words:
I have been writing stories since early childhood. My sister and I would spend hours creating masterpieces of stapled paper and handwritten words, complete with pen-and-ink covers and boxed illustrations. Probably my favorite part of the process was creating a list for the back cover: "Don’t miss the other books in this series!" That list of eye-catching titles always seemed like way less work than (hand) writing out a whole book. But isn’t that just the way of things?
The road to publication was long and winding, peppered with many small successes including: a variety of national magazine publications, being a 2005 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award honoree, and receiving the 2008 SCBWI’s Susan Landers Glass Scholarship Award, for the book that would later become Nowhere Girl. My first picture book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, was published in 2009.
I now live with my husband and two daughters in the Boston area, where I continue to write books for children and young adults. I am also an agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency (but that’s a story for another day). What more do you want to know?
I am... mother, friend, reader, traveler, food-lover, chocolate connoisseur.
I am not... especially tidy, a fan of mushy vegetables, or good at coming up with spur-of-the-moment self-portraits.
Adam Record's bio, in his own words:
Hi I’m Adam…..hello :) I’m an illustrator and designer from Utah. I love to draw and design and I’ve been blessed to be able to do it fo a living for a numbe of years now. I have worked with many great clients such as Scholastic, Harper Collins, Hallmark, Disney, Fisher Price, and many more great folks.
I started doodling on a padded bench in church. I liked saturday morning cartoons and cereal with marshmallows in it. I played with GI Joes and watched WWF wrestling with my brothers and I was outside most of my life. I started getting serious about drawing when someone actaully bought one of my drawings, and I thought….that’s cool…other people might actually like my stuff. So I continued to draw and paint and doodle and here I am now with my own website. Crazy.
I get inspired by old childrens books, vintage posters, anything prior to the 90’s to be honest. I like Miroslav Sasek, Mary Blair, Saul Bass and Edward Gorey. I listen to Tom Waits and I like the smell of cement after it rains.
Visit Ammi-Joan and Adam's websites!