From when I was little, I always loved having my own little nook or cave to retreat to and write. From huge cardboard boxes, to forts, to cleaning out half of my closet to use as a hideaway “office.” I loved having my own secret little spot. I would decorate it, stock it with paper, pens, markers, a desk, chair, and light. Some things never change.
Once I started writing more seriously, a corner of a room in our house became my writing space. I found the perfect chairs, a little table, and surrounded the space with inspirational art, quotes, pictures, and momentos from writing events. It proved to be a comfortable happy place.
There were just a few problems. I shared the room with the piano and our home computer, so I wasn’t always alone. The room was right next to the living room, so if the TV was on, I could hear it. There was no lock on the door, so my clever cat, Tucker, who can open lever handles, always opened the door to let all of our pets in to “see” me. To some, this may seem like minor nuisances, but I had a hard time focusing.
Many year ago, my husband and I had an amazing playhouse built in our backyard for our girls. It was sided and designed to look like a mini-version of our home. It also has electricity, an air conditioner for the summer, and a space heater for the winter. We insulated it, installed windows, and carpeting. My mom made curtains and we filled it with a kitchen set, Barbie houses, a table and chairs, and even a tv/dvd player for movies. If I would have had this when I was a kid, I don’t know if I would have ever come back in the house!
My girls are now in 7th and 11th grades. This past summer was the first summer that the playhouse was not played in once. Our original plan was to turn the playhouse into storage once the girls outgrew it. As I thought about the possibilities, my wheels started spinning about a writing cottage. I had seen all kinds of cool “She Sheds” on TV and on Pinterest. Artists have studios. Could I have my own personal writing shack? Once I was cleared to remove the toys and take over, the fun began. I ripped out the carpet, added another window, put down hard-wood flooring and a rug, brought my writing chairs out, ordered a writing table and lamp, and started painting.
I cannot tell you how much I love this space. I have all of my books, poems, and magazine publications out here, cards of encouragement people have given me up on the wall, books I love to read, books that help me become a better writer, and all of my current writing projects. I have a window that my chair and desk both face, overlooking a tree with bird feeders and birdhouses. As I sit here, I feel very blessed to have this cozy space to do what I love.
If you're like me, it doesn't take much to get distracted from my writing with something else on my to-do list. Although writing is a passion that I love to do, my kids need to go places, meals need cooked, schoolwork needs to be planned, and the calendar is always full.
If only I could get away for a week and work on that novel. The one that's been sitting patiently for a few years for me to give it more attention than the occasional read-through.
When I heard my writing friends talk about the Highlights Foundation Workshops, I had hopes to go someday. I even signed up once, only to have to cancel because of other obligations.
This summer I finally flew off to Pennsylvania, with my manuscript loaded on my laptop. I can tell you that this place is everything others have raved about. You have your own cabin surrounded by beautiful scenery. There are amazing chefs that cater to your every need, and an ice-cream freezer in the barn open around the clock. (For those of you that know me, you know that was a happy bonus!)
I signed up for a small group workshop on novel writing. You can sign up for any genre you want to work on, or even sign up for an "un-conference" and just write. We kicked off each day with breakfast and great instruction in the mornings, enjoyed a wonderful lunch, learned some more, and then -the best part- had afternoons filled with writing time. We met for dinner and shared our writing in the evenings. It was a perfect balance of learning, sharing, reflecting, and writing. A writer's dream.
Writing is a process and we all have our favorite parts of it. For me, the most exciting part is the idea phase. I love coming up with an idea and building on it. I could get lost in the initial draft of a book. Time flies and so does my pencil. I don't want anything to interrupt my flow.
Revision is the stage that I tend to decide the closets in the house need reorganized or I need to change the sheets on all of the beds. I find any excuse to not sit down to work on my story because it takes a lot of focus. You have to look at something that was so joyful to create and operate on it. Many times, parts you love need cut out. Sometimes you know there is a place that needs reworded, but can't come up with a single original idea. Then the doubt creeps in. "Why was I thinking this would be a good story? I stink at this. Why am I spending hours figuring out names for a talking Vulture?"
The good news is, just like most things in life, if you put the effort in, it's always worth it. The finished product is so much better when you go back through and look at everything from a new angle. For example, in my book, Nicken Chuggets, I needed a better way to say the cook didn't understand what Cooper was saying. It took me several hours to come up with, "Mr. Mack was as confused as a chameleon in a bucket of crayons." Several hours. For one sentence. But, it was worth the time because it is more playful and creative as a simile than a direct statement.
I'm starting the revision phase of a middle grade novel I'm working on. You think it's an undertaking reworking a 600 word picture book, try revisiting every scene of a novel! Ugh! That could be why I noticed that I hadn't written a blog for a few months and it was a good day to teach my daughter how to use the sewing machine she got for Christmas. :) Ok, I guess I better get back to work. Best wishes to all of you on your revisions in the new year!
It is beyond exciting to get to finally hold a book you have been working on for over a year. Then comes the realization that your work is not done. You have to figure out ways to get the word out about your book and hope to find opportunities to share it with the kids you wrote it for. One of the teaching standards we have for reading is learning the author's purpose of a book. There are three main purposes: to inform, to entertain, and to persuade.
When I wrote I am Not a Pirate, my "author's purpose" was to inform. My target was kids that may have an eye issue or some other physical difficulty they have to overcome. I sent books to eye doctor's offices and spread the word on parent forums for families dealing with strabismus and amblyopia.
My author's purpose for Nicken Chuggets though, is to entertain. This story is about two science-loving boys that cook up a plan to earn money to go to science camp. Cooper, the main character, often talks in spoonerisms. (Spoonerisms occur when you accidentally transpose the beginnings of two words.) I had a lot of fun playing with words when figuring out the things Cooper would say. My target audience is kids that like to read funny books that let you be silly. When I was trying to figure out a creative place to do a book signing, I figured most people would think of chicken nuggets when they hear the title, Nicken Chuggets. Where do you think of when you think of chicken nuggets? McDonalds of course! And what would fit my target audience better than one of the favorite eateries of kids in this age group? I had a lot of fun at the book signing and am so grateful that I got to get books into the hands of some really great kids.
Encouragement is a recurring message for me lately. Maybe I am seeking encouragement opportunities more because I am reading the book, Treasures of Encouragment, by Sharon Betters. Maybe it is because I have been the recipient of heaping servings of encouragement from a conference I recently attended. Whatever the reason, I'm reminded of how important it is to encourage others. Sharon Betters says, "True encouragement pumps hope into the receiver and also into the giver." Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, says, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." We sometimes need reminded of this in the competitive world we live in. It is easy to get on the treadmill of life, set a goal, and run toward it without taking note of anything happening around us. It is amazing how much we limit ourselves if we are only minding "our own business." Encouragement is a powerful tool that can change a life and energize you to do bigger and better things. Think of people that you truly admire and respect. You can probably think of many ways that person motivated or helped others. It is no coincidence. There are so many ways we can encourage others. We can help someone do a project, promote something he/she is doing to others, praise someone for a job well done, smile or give a compliment, provide a monetary or physical need for someone, pray for the person, or come up with a way to surprise someone with a good deed of some kind for no other reason than to make his/her day.
It is awesome when someone takes the time to encourage you. It is a blessing when you take the opportunity to encourage others. "Those who are the happiest are those who do the most for others." - Booker T. Washington