My Mission Statement

I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I Believe in Music....

So...calling all writers!  Fellow writers, if you use music in the writing process, please answer my survey on the left side.  I am doing research on the role of music in writing picture books.  However, I  would be interested in hearing from writers of all genres.

I love music, all kinds of music, and it is a big part of my writing process.  I work out my rhyming picture books on the piano, for example, and I wonder if anyone else uses music in this way (and if it is even a good idea!).  I might be cramping the story in a box.  So I want to study the relationship between music and writing and how it may be helpful and/or harmful.  I welcome any thoughts, suggestions, or recommended resources in this process.

I am working on a book now along with a study of rhythm and meter in Cajun music.   The topic of the book is related to southern Cajun culture.  I hope to study the process by doing a series of manuscripts using music.

It might be good or it might be bad.  I will keep you posted.  Thanks for your feedback and input.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trying Things Kate's Way

     Hamline University's MFAC program has a fairy godmother, and her name is Kate DiCamillo.  Her name is whispered in the hallowed halls.  Students love her, revere her, and yet she is approachable and friendly.  She is a brilliant writer which means she is a hard-working writer.   Her work is so full of heart that the reader can't help but fall in love with her characters and Kate, herself.  She doesn't avoid the tough topics.  She plunges right in.

     She is generous in her role at Hamline.  She is generous with the scholarship and award she offers.  She is generous with encouragement and advice.  She is humble and unassuming, yet when she speaks about her work, writers lean forward to catch every word.

      So I was shocked when she told us that she writes only two pages a day.  She said she writes EVERY DAY but only two pages.

     Even Jane Yolen scoffed a little at those two pages.  She writes 6-10 hours some days.  Two pages?  Kate, really?

      I, who am  no Kate DiCamillo, usually strive for somewhere between 1500 and 2500 words a day.   10,000 hours, man!   I'm going for Beatles in Amsterdam (see the OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell if you don't know what I am talking about).   Two pages is, like, 500 words.

      For some reason, this tidbit stuck in my head.  It's been torturing me for well over a week now.  Kate DiCamillo (who won the Newbery medal YET AGAIN on Monday) writes two pages a day.  

      Am I some kind of wild, undisciplined writer who just pours out the words to count them?  Am I encouraging mediocrity in my writing?   Am I focused on quantity instead of quality?

       I understand that everyone works differently.  Sure.  We all have to find our way, our routine.  In Steven Pressfield's THE WAR OF ART, the first section "What I do" details his daily writing routine--mostly the things he does BEFORE he starts to write.  I light a candle.  Sometimes I draw or sketch or paint.  Usually I drink coffee.  No big secrets there.  Mr. Pressfield's routines are a bit more elaborate and thoughtful (and maybe I'll try one of them...I especially like his invocation of the muse from Homer's ODYSSEY).   By the time Mr. P and I have completed our little routines, Kate is probably FINISHED.  Or maybe she has her own routines.  Still, two pages, Two pages.  It has haunted me.

       So I did some math.  If I write 2000 words a day (an average between the 1500 to 2500), that's 14,000 a week.   At Hamline during the intensive, I wrote 1000 words a day, a low number, but attainable in that environment and still 7000 a week.
        If Kate writes 500 a day, that's 3500 a week.

        Wow.  Big difference.  And is there a difference in our writing?  Um, yes, but somehow I don't think it's all due to word count.   Ha ha.  But stay with me.

        So then I decided to be HONEST with myself.   How often do I actually write 2000-2500 words a day?  Well, every day.  WAIT.  Every day I write.  You see, I need a block of time to do that kind of writing (especially if I listen to Robert Olen Butler).  Sometimes I don't have a block of time that big, so what do I do?  I work on research or brainstorm plot points or character traits or things like that.  Maybe I fool around with a picture book manuscript on the piano or find music on youtube that will reflect my setting.  If I have a doctor's appointment or the kids get out of school for snow or something comes up, I always WORK somehow, but more and more, it's not actually sitting down and knocking out the words.  So, in the past few weeks, I have only written about 15,000 words on my novel.  (I am not including pb words--impossible to count--different matter altogether).  So that becomes a little over 1000 words a day.  Now the intensive was in there, a tough time to write, but still.

      There are WHOLE DAYS when I do not write a word on my novel.   Why?  Because I don't have that block of time.

      WHAT IF I only wrote 500 words a day?  What if I only wrote TWO PAGES a day?

1.  I would NEVER have an excuse.  I can write 500 words a day despite any schedule interruption.

2.  I would keep my head in my story 7 days a week.  That kind of day-to-day time spent on my novel will allow for fewer wasted words as I strive to 'get back into the story' or 'settle back into the voice' that I lose when I'm two days away from it.

3.  I would gain a better routine.  Surely, I can postpone or ignore almost anything until I've written 500 words.

4.  I might conquer Resistance, that ugly fellow who feeds me all the things I need to do instead of write.  What kind of argument is 500 words?  Even Resistance would shrug and feel non threatened by 500 words

5.  In the end, my work might be better for all the above reasons.

6.  I might even (gasp) write more.  Because 500 words, seven days a week adds up.   Like a financial planner might tell you, slow and steady always wins.

7.  I will avoid the guilt I feel when I don't reach my daily, often lofty, writing goals.  I have NO EXCUSE to skip 500 words.

So , dear Kate.  I do not mean any disrespect in comparing my writing life to yours.  That would be like comparing me in my skirted swimsuit to a Sports Illustrated model in her painted on bikini.  NO CONTEST.

But I want to thank you.  I plan to lower my word count goal immediately, and in doing so, I think I will not only produce better work, but I will feel better about it.

Thank you for your ongoing inspiration, motivation and generosity.  Thank you for all you give to the world of children's literature.  I am grateful that you give your very best to the children of the world.

I am a fan.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Residency at Hamline University's MFAC Program

     I just returned from my second residency at Hamline's Master in Fine Arts for Children program.  It is a graduate program with a low-residency model, which means I go twice a year for about two weeks INTENSIVELY, and then the rest of my semester's work is completed from home.  It is, in my opinion, an excellent model for a creative writing program, especially a graduate program, because of all the writing.  July was my first residency, and I was truly so overwhelmed that I never even blogged about it.

     The residency is also called an intensive and for good reason.  The schedule is intensive.  The focus is intensive.  The theme is intensive.  We start early every morning and end late in the night.  On most days, we begin with our small groups for workshop time, then the rest of the day is spent hearing lectures or participating in courses taught by the AMAZING faculty and guest authors.  We also hear presentations from other members of the program as well as readings from students and faculty.  This description sounds so boring and mundane.  But it's not.  NOT AT ALL.

     So I've tried to come up with a few reasons why the Intensive Residencies are so awesome:

1.  You finally get to see your semester advisor, a wiser-than-Yoda professor and writer who has given feedback and suggestions and encouragement (and eventually grades) on your semester work.  By the end of the semester, you feel bound by blood to this person.  It is exciting to meet in person to discuss your progress.

2.  You reunite with all your classmates.  For the past semester, you have all been in the same boat, and now you get to compare war stories.  And love stories.  And other stories of triumph and defeat.

3.  You celebrate a successful semester together, and you get geared up for a new semester together.
Yes, beer is involved.  (remember, I am WAY older than many---okay MOST---of these people)

4.  You hear the most brilliant talks on writing craft that you will ever hear in your life.  No kidding.  These professors are the real deal.  They are the rare combination of published writers in the trenches AND professors.  They KNOW what they are talking about, they LIVE what they are talking about, they win awards for DOING what they help us do.

5.  These people are MY PEOPLE.  I have found my place in the world.  You can make a corny, obscure literary allusion and SOMEONE GETS IT.  (and they find it as funny as you do)  They have real passion for books and reading and characters.

6.  These people are enormously talented.  In workshop every day, the talent and creativity will blow you away.  You will RUN to the bookstore to read books written by your classmates---their work is some of the best writing you have ever heard.

7.  Everyone is generous with their knowledge and experience.  The students farther along in the program are always willing to help the new students.  It's a true community---not the competitive environment that marks so many professional programs.

8.  These people truly love and appreciate the young reader.  They GET it.  Childhood is sacred, precious and magical--they want to emphasize and enhance that feeling.  A common phrase is "help and hope for the reader".

9.  For some strange reason, these people are investing in you, they believe in you, and they are there to help you be successful.  Truly.  AND they have the capability to help you--not just the want--these people KNOW THINGS and want you to LEARN, TOO.  

So now I am home, ready to begin my independent work for the semester, but I am inspired and encouraged by the great community that is the Hamline MFAC program.  I am grateful and humbled by everyone there---these people are kind, courageous, bold, creative, generous, and thoughtful.  They are not only the writers I long to be, they are the people I long to be.

Thank you, dear Hamliners.  See you in July.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Um....yes!   YES!  YES!  YESSSSS!    Maybe I should elaborate.

I had been writing for about ten years.  By myself.  At home.  Okay, well, I had an accountability partner.  And I HAD an agent.  I published some.  I wrote a LOT.  I worked on my craft.  I didn't want to be just good enough, I thought children deserved the BEST--MY BEST.  I probably got my 10,000 hours or pretty close (see OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell or just listen to the rap song...), but, like that cheeky Oliver, I wanted more.

So I nervously applied for MFAC programs.  In truth, there were only two programs in the United States that appealed to me.  So, I applied.  Did I mention the nervously part?

So let me do your arguing for you.  Here are the reasons I thought it was a bad idea:

1.  It is very expensive.
2.  I probably wouldn't get in.
3.  Even if I got in, I probably wasn't good enough.
4.  Even if they thought I was good enough, they were probably mistaken.
5.  I have four children, for Lord's sake.  I don't have TIME for that!
6.  I have four children, for Lord's sake.  I don't have the MONEY for that!
7.  I already have several degrees....including Master's....
8.  I don't need it. I have been writing for ten years!  I've read every book out there!  I've even worked my way through the book that calls itself a do-it-yourself MFA (or something like that).
9.  I should devote my time and knowledge to something that will help others, the less fortunate...or something like that...
10.  My house isn't clean enough to do anything else AT ALL!
11.  I liked being married.
12.  I was too OLD!

 I had some excellent arguments, but I said to God, "Look, if you want me to do this thing, then make it happen."  And in truth, I really, deep down, thought it was selfish.  I thought I wouldn't get in.  I prepared myself to accept reality.   I braced myself to say, "Well, I tried."

Then, I got in.

Long story short, I chose the AMAZING Hamline University's MFAC program, and it has changed my life, my writing life, and my faith walk forever.

I am absolutely certain that I am where I should be.  As I write this blog post, I am so excited to return to my second residency even though it is in Minnesota where it is sixteen below!  I can't wait to rejoin this incredible community of writers and readers and artists.  I yearn to see my brilliant and supportive mentor from this past semester who has taught me more in six months than I've learned in ten years.  I look forward to congratulating the other members of this community of have won awards, new book deals, and other accolades in the six months since we've been together.  I plan to welcome the new students with the same support and enthusiasm that enveloped me, and I will be honored to celebrate with the graduating class (including my talented buddy, Miriam--"buddy" is an official title, btw) and my soon-to-be BFF, Jane Yolen.

In short, I haven't regretted this decision for one second.  This program is bigger and better and more than all the arguments I could conjure.  Or maybe my DREAM is bigger.   But even my dream isn't too big for Hamline and its amazing faculty.

Watch out, Minnesota, wind chill and all, HERE I COME!

If anyone has any questions about the MFAC program, seriously, I would be happy to talk some sense into you, I mean, answer your questions.

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman