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by Deb Lund
I’ve been restless lately. Uncertain. Wondering what to work on next, but not taking action. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the outward version of that was an approaching storm—a blizzard, a tornado, torrential rains… It starts out in stillness and quickly gets dark.
There’s something in the air that you can’t quite identify, and then it whooshes in…
Energy builds. Everything whirls around you. There’s nothing to hang on to. It all feels impossible and there’s nothing you can do about it—except face it. Be brave! Lean into the wind! You got this!
Creativity needs chaos. It needs a storm. Once in a while we need to be shaken out of our pitiful patterns and hideous habits. You know what I mean. Those crazy excuses—I’m too old/young/busy/whatever. Or… just another game of Solitaire, or another snack. Yeah! That’s what I need!
When the storm hits, don’t hide out, and don’t run away. What matters to you? What’s your big dream? What would give your life more meaning? Claim it! Step into the eye of the storm.
Snatch the ideas flying by. Add more snatches to them. Don’t look for pieces that fit—go for curiosity, not judgment. Just grab them. Own the storm!
Are you wondering what you’re getting yourself into? Feeling lost? Unprepared? Me, too! When it comes to creativity, if you don’t know what you’re doing—you’re on the right path!
Still feeling anxious? What do you say to yourself? Here are some of mine…
- “Who do you think you are?”
- “It was only a fluke that you ever got published.”
- “Someday they’ll figure out you can’t write.”
Change those conversations! We all run around scared that someone else is going to find out we don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re afraid we’ll die in the storm.
Take back that talk, and talk back!
It’s hard work finding your way through torrential rains, hail, sleet, or snow. The wind might mangle your umbrella. You might slip on the ice. You might end up in your own version of Oz. Do it anyway.
I grew up with stories of farmers tying ropes between their homes and barns so they could take care of their cattle during blizzards. We have no worries there. Tara is our tether, and she’s tenacious! You may feel lost now and then, but the rope is always within reach. Come back and read this post when your doubts drift up around your ears. I promise you can do this!
When a storm approaches, you get ready. You gather up all you need. You make a plan.
Here’s a short list to help you get started:
- Piggyback on elements of your favorite stories.
- Glance through book titles on bookstore and library shelves.
- Start with first sentences from books you haven’t read.
- Drag out past idea lists or folders to mix and match
- Look at photos—your own, social media, online image searches.
- Mine your memories.
- Think emotions: Sad, angry, hurt, frustrated, relieved, determined, etc.
- Search magazines, newspapers, and online resources for interesting stories.
- Observe kids in libraries, stores, parks, schools, or your own at home.
- Think “firsts”—teeth, steps, birthdays, school, friend, kiss, etc.
- Identify epiphanies and turning points.
- Ask kids, parents, teachers, librarians, friends, family—anyone!
I’m sure our amazing Storystorm line-up will cover some of these in detail and more. Still feeling anxious? Change your default reaction to calm. Tough order, I know. But it’s possible.
As tornadoes touched down around us on Minnesota summer days, neighbors without basements would run to our house and gather in ours. My mom would ask me to play the piano while we waited out the storm.
Playing through a storm is a pretty good analogy of the creative process.
Here’s how you do it…
Ignore the dangers around you. Stay focused, deny the distractions, and entertain yourself until the wind dies down enough to step out into the new landscape before you. And when you do, stay curious. If you label the storm a disaster, you’re not free to experiment and explore.
Keep an open mind as you assess the possibilities. You can shovel out a path or pick up pieces later. Until then, enjoy the wonder and the rainbows. After this month, you might just become a storm chaser.
Deb Lund is best known for her rowdy, rollicking dinoadventures. She’s helped many writers forge their way through storms with her card deck, Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers. Deb is a creativity coach who claims that outsmarting her own fierce inner critic makes her more qualified to lead storm troopers than all her training, teaching, and years of coaching experience. Visit Deb at deblund.com.
Deb is generously giving away three prizes: two 15-minute creativity coaching sessions and one set of Fiction Magic cards.
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
Kidlit Creativity Camp
with Deb Lund
September 15-18, 2015
Letchworth State Park
Glen Iris Inn
Genesee Falls, New York
Tara, I’m so excited for our Kidlit Creativity Camp play date in September! I’ve already started packing my creative play toys…
Springs, sprockets, my word purse, pictures, improv prompts, puppets, gadgets, gimmicks, doodles, dance shoes, dice, anti-inner-critic spray, troublemaking dares, a jillion idea generators, and assorted missing pieces for revision puzzles. I might have to pay for an extra bag on the plane—especially when I add all the Whidbey Island (no woo-woo) wishing stones and magic wands! (Yes, you get to take them home with you.)
In case that sounds like too much silliness, it’s not. In case someone might be thinking it’s only for picture book creators, it’s not. In case it appears too elementary (pun intended), it’s not. Our days together will have all the usual craft activities like critiques, writing time, individual attention, and encouragement, but we’ll spice it up with the creativity coaching you probably don’t even know you need and the playfulness that you already know you’ve been missing.
Play is a neglected necessity for creative people.
We think we don’t have time—that we must directly and diligently work toward an outcome. Purposeful play is a prerequisite to product. Play helps you connect the unconnected. It actually speeds up the creative process, expands possibilities, and makes your work more meaningful and joyful.
I totally get how play can seem unproductive, even though the opposite can be true. The need to play, like the need to dream, is one of those things I know intellectually and might still instinctively choose work habits that have evolved from years of built-up misinformation and plain old wrong beliefs.
As writers, we can have an excellent work ethic, but if purposeful play isn’t part of that work, we’re working too hard! I’m tired of working too hard and not getting anywhere—aren’t you? Wouldn’t you like to exchange some hard work for more results?
Creativity requires play.
I know Tara knows that as well as I do—probably better. We’ve played together in online classes, in blog posts, and in our jammies on Skype. And now, finally, we get to play together in person (jammies optional)!
Creativity needs a safe space (especially if you’re in your jammies).
Ever feel like throwing a tantrum because it seems like there are far more obstacles in the way of your writing dream than you could ever dream up to throw at your characters? That’s not bad! It means you’re in the right place for a transformation—in your writing and in your writing life. At camp, you can take off your mask or try on others! (I’ll provide the masks.) We’ll explore, regroup, energize, and connect!
No judgment allowed. We’ll be replacing that with curiosity.
Our safe circle will allow you to face your fears, address your doubts, and claim your creativity. But please sign up now! We’re capping enrollment at 24, and reserved rooms and lower rates are in place only until July 1.
Creativity takes time.
The Kidlit Creativity Camp can help you make the best use of your time. You deserve the opportunity to create new habits, to make time for your dreams, to get support in making your writing be the best it can be, and to be part of the supportive, creative playful community that we’ll create together at Kidlit Creativity Camp.
I’ll see you at our September play date.
Wear your play clothes.
I hope you’ll join me for Deb’s amazing camp and retreat. I signed up immediately after she announced it because I know what a great coach and teacher she is!
And now for YOUR prize (as if the camp isn’t enough)! Deb is giving away a deck of her fabulous Fiction Magic cards to one lucky blog commenter!
And if Deb fills the retreat, all attendees will receive a deck as well.
A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.
by Deb Lund
“Amplify the Longing!” That was the first card I randomly pulled from my Fiction Magic card deck for writers on the first day of November. Jan O’Neil and I were hosting about a dozen writers for a PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo kickoff at the Diamond Knot Brewery next to the Whidbey Island ferry.
Good thing I pulled that card before everyone got there. It didn’t take long for Jan and I to discover the afternoon would be more of a social event than an idea-gathering one. Fortunately, using the Fiction Magic cards got us half way through our 30 ideas in record time so we could be social along with the rest of them!
When Tara asked me to write about using Fiction Magic for a Post-PiBoIdMo post, I said yes, because I always say yes to Tara’s challenges. In this case, though, I knew the cards would work well for generating picture book ideas, but following up on those ideas? My first thought was that it would be challenging. That’s good and bad.
It’s difficult for me to resist a challenge.
Fast forward to the last day of November, with my unfinished PiBoIdMo list. How could I write a Post-PiBoIdMo post if I didn’t complete the challenge myself? With my crazy schedule (and clothes-dryer mind), I hadn’t touched that list since our gathering. There’s nothing like a deadline to make a challenge even more exciting!
I pulled out my cards and completed my list in one short sitting. (Should I be admitting that to Tara?)
And then I heard from Jan:
“I had 30 ideas done in 28 days, with the last 11 ideas coming on day 28. That’s the day I was sitting in line for a ferry, pulled out your cards, and whipped out those last puppies.”
All that is great, but I still had the new challenge from Tara ahead of me.
I did say I like challenges, right?
I decided to keep going with the unknown (always a good thing to do when creating) and randomly drew a different Fiction Magic card to apply to each of the original ideas.
Remember the “Amplify the Longing” card? My PiBoIdMo lists in past years were a few words at the most. Not this year! The original idea from that card was:
Kid is never satisfied, wants more, more, more. Parents get run down, tired of trying to keep up with his demands, and when they can’t give any more, he gives them more and more love.
Jan revealed another similar experience:
“In the previous three Novembers, I finished all of the challenges by the skin of my teeth and came to understand that I am not one of those people for whom ideas come fully formed. Most of my ideas fit on one line of my journal paper. Later they may have notes written in the margins, but not at the time the idea first comes. This year, using the Fiction Magic Cards, my ideas are way more fleshed out. I mean, some even take six lines in my journal!”
So I held my breath, reminded myself that I love challenges, and drew a card as a follow-up to “Amplify the Longing.”
Yes! I could revolt and pick a different card, right? No? But the guidebook has creativity coaching tips following each craft suggestion! Couldn’t “Revolt” be a coaching tip?
My first thought was to have the parents go on a strike, but I didn’t want them to have any direct part in solving the problem, so I decided my main character needed to revolt. Maybe he’ll throw a tantrum until he’s all tired out, too. Then he can relate to how they feel and figure out that they all need love.
Don’t we all?
Here are a couple more examples of my PiBoIdMo ideas and how I used Fiction Magic cards to flesh them out:
“Speak the Unspeakable”
Original Idea: This little girl can only say no.
This little girl can only say no. When it’s time to go? No!
This little girl can never say yes. Clean up your mess? No!
This little girl can only say no. Would you like ice cream? No!
This little girl would like to say yes. Does she? No!
Can she still have ice cream? No!
The additional card I selected for this idea was “Take a Break.” I thought the girl could insist that she can’t say yes, but when she gets tired of all the no’s, of not getting all she wants, she stops talking instead of saying yes, and later, when she finally says yes, she saves face by saying the change was because her tongue needed a break. I also decided that I needed to take a break from all the “This little girl…” lines—and maybe a good long break from this idea!
Are you getting the idea that you have to come up with a lot of bad ideas in order to get a good one? Good! That’s one of the reasons Tara does all this work.
Okay, one more…
Baby learning to walk. It’s a risk for the baby, and the artwork could show the determination and obstacles to walking.
I thought this would be a story from the Baby’s point of view, but then I knew it had to be a sibling watching the baby learn to walk. The sibling, of course, is not happy about the baby getting all the attention until the baby chooses to walk to the sibling.
Well, there might be a little hope for that idea.
The card I chose to follow up on that one was “Provoke a Response.” That’s exactly what the baby does. Naturally, there would have been a response from the sibling, but because of the second card, I’ll make sure it’s big enough. And maybe the baby will even say the sibling’s name as the first word. Hmmm… And that means I will work in a little bit at the beginning about how the baby “can’t even talk” and just “makes noise.”
See how this works? Fiction Magic isn’t magic. It just feels that way because it triggers new ways of seeing and deepens the concept and plot by combining ideas to create what Tara and I call “High Concept Picture Books.”
Will I work on any of these stories? Maybe. Will any of them be published? It doesn’t matter. It’s all practice. You have to mine a lot of rock to get at the gems.
Keep adding to your ideas, keep writing badly (you have to reach your quota!), and go where your magic leads you.
Deb Lund may be best known as the author of All Aboard the Dinotrain and other picture books, but she has taught writing (the focus of her master’s project) to teachers and writers of all ages for 25 years. Deb is also a creativity coach whose mission is to get everyone claiming their creativity. Visit her at DebLund.com and follow her on Twitter @DebLund.
Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers is a 3.5” x 5” boxed set of 54 cards with a 60-page guidebook. Fiction Magic card “tricks” help writers raise the stakes in their writing with phrases like “Alienate an Ally” and “Remove the Moral Compass.” The guidebook provides possible interpretations for each of the 54 cards, followed by creativity coaching “tips” to help writers apply the cards’ messages to their writing lives. It’s like having two decks in one!
***THIS POST CONCLUDES PIBOIDMO! THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING AND GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR IDEAS! PRIZES WILL BE ANNOUNCED ALL WEEK, SO STAY TUNED!***
***UPDATE 3/28/14: “Fiction Magic” is now fully funded! Thanks to everyone who contributed. You still have 9 more days to get some fabulous pledge packages, too!***
Sometimes writers need a good kick in the pants.
Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal writing coach by your side every day to get you moving? She could whip the sheets off you each morning, bugle reveille in your ear, even toast you an Eggo while you shower.
Eh, who am I kidding? Writers don’t shower!
Author Deb Lund brought together her 20+ years of teaching experience in a magical way—with 54 surprising writing prompts, tips and tricks for you to apply to your work-in-progress whenever you’re feeling stuck. It’s like having that writing coach right there with you, only a lot less annoying. It’s “Fiction Magic”!
For years, Deb taught 4th- and 5th-grade students how to write, and she wanted to make it cool for them, so she developed these cards. Her real “aha” moment came when she realized that she could teach adults the same way she taught children, using the same FUN strategies. ABRACADABRA! These “magical” cards act as triggers to pull something out of your head that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to coax out.
At the Oregon Silver Falls SCBWI Writing Retreat, star agent Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency attended Deb’s session and then exclaimed, “I want all my writers to have your cards!” Yep, she was that impressed. The only problem? Deb’s cards were a prototype that cost her $200 to produce. How could she make them for a dozen writers? A hundred? A THOUSAND?
Enter Kickstarter. Deb’s Fiction Magic campaign is on right now and it’s 94% funded already! But with just 10 days to go, she needs your help. And believe me, you want her help, too!
Let’s do a few tricks right now, shall we? Whip out your WIP and see if these magical remedies help!
AGREE TO A BAD DEAL
Your characters must make some bad choices along the way. They may even have to negotiate for something they need or want with people they loathe. Characters may know they’re agreeing to bad deals but feel they have no choice. Or the deals appear good, but fall apart later. Or time factors make the deals even more ominous. Make the stakes of bad deals so high it’s difficult for your characters to back out of them.
When you feel stressed by all that’s on your plate, be gentle with yourself. Let your characters agree to bad deals, but the only agreement you need to make with yourself right now is to write, no matter how bad the writing may seem.
REVEAL A SECRET
Secrets can be powerful tools or sources of trouble. Or both. What information could your characters unwittingly slip out to the wrong people? Characters could be in danger because of secrets. Other characters could reveal secrets that affect your lead characters, whether the secrets were theirs or not. In trying to cover up secrets or escaping from those trying to conceal secrets, what could go wrong? Who will be angry? Hurt? Feeling betrayed? Put in life or death situations?
Do you keep your dreams secret? Sometimes they need protection, but when you’re ready and the time is right, reveal them to others who believe in you.
THROW IN AN OBSTACLE
If you’re lucky, you’ll pick this card over and over, because this is Key. Your characters are on quests. Delay them. Interrupt their journeys. Who or what could step in to make your characters stop in their tracks? The interruptions may be people, objects, circumstances, thoughts, feelings… Send your characters merrily down the road, and then run them into roadblocks. Keep tossing them unending hardship. Warm up your pitching arm and let it rip. Throw after throw after throw.
As a writer, you have plenty obstacles. For each one you throw at your character, remove one from your writing life! Where will you start?
There are 51 more Fiction Magic tricks for you to try. But only if you help Deb reach her goal.
Check out her Kickstarter and create your own magic! (Even if that includes the bugle call. But that’s not for me. I am NOT a morning person!)
As soon as I call on a kid at a school visit and they ask this question, dozens of other hands go down. You’ll hear countless children’s authors say it’s the question they’re asked the most. I get ideas everywhere (yes, that’s a copout statement), and so can you!
But first, you have to get past Miss Midge and her like. Those nasty voices that say miserable things to you. Here she is in my journal (and right now she’s saying “You’re not an artist, what are you doing!?!”)
GAG YOUR INNER CRITIC!
If you’ve been moaning about being behind in your PiBo count—stop perfectionizing! (Since my dinobooks, I’ve thrown out the dictionary. We are all powerful. We create worlds. We can create our own words.) Write down ALL the ideas you consider. You don’t know what will piggyback on them or what new variation will emerge. Let in the misfits and barefoot ideas that blankly stare at you.
But, back to the coach in me who wants you to stop being so durned critical… Name that beast inside you and move on. Sorry, but you gotta be tough about this one. Stand up for yourself. No self-bullying allowed!
Done exorcising that evil shadow? (Not totally? Okay, we’ll visit this again a little later.) Let’s move on to your hunting training.
BECOME AN IDEA HUNTER!
Ideas lurk. They hide. They disguise themselves. It’s your job to hunt them down. You develop x-ray vision, you study playground shenanigans and never say Bah Humbug about any holiday that involves kids, chaos, and giddiness. You train your family and friends. You observe like a four year old. You and your trainees share knowing looks. Picture book? Picture book!
MINE YOUR MEMORIES & UNLEASH YOUR IMAGINATION!
I always say writing is part imagination and part memory—it’s just the ratio that changes. Open your eyes with this in mind and you’ll never lack for ideas.
While other four-year-olds were playing in their sandboxes, I sat on my dad’s lap and operated the levers on his backhoe. I helped him “build.” Those experiences inspired MONSTERS ON MACHINES.
I sailed with The Shifty Sailors (the motley crew below) from Seattle to Olympia, and we took the train on the way home… DINOSAILORS and ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN.
You see? Memory and imagination.
Along with memories come emotions. That takes a little deeper mining, but that’s what makes prose sing. What keeps readers engaged, holding their breaths, laughing out loud, shedding tears. Feel as you write. Wring yourself out onto the page. Write the words that pour from that space that aches, that cries for joy. Replace your judgment with curiosity and write as if your words can save the world. Because they can.
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL WRITER!
Picture book creators must play! Go galumphing! (Says my good friend George Shannon—who is great at accessing his four year old). Twist those ideas, turn them upside down, pack them with surprises and yummy words until you’re clapping and Yay-ing! Be four!
So, little girl or boy inside that big grown-up writer, what do you want? What’s your big dream or wish? Write it. Write whatever “it” becomes. And big outside writer, let that four-year-old go where it’s going to go. Don’t wait for the tantrum. If Miss Midge hears the kicking and yelling, she’ll be all over me.
I promised you another try at quieting your inner critics. Ready?
Raise your write hand and repeat after me…
Note: Did you know some people are so controlled by their inner critic that they can’t even get their hands in the air? RAISE THEM! There. Was that really so tough?
Write badly! Write junk—and lots of it! You gotta dig through lots of rocks to unearth the gems. You clean the mess up later—not before it hits the page.
No excuses, no stopping, no perfectionizing…
Just do it! And may the Fours be with you!
Deb Lund is a picture book author, creativity coach, continuing education instructor, and writing teacher. In her past lives, she’s been a music and classroom teacher, an elementary librarian, and a school founding director. If Deb’s rambling sparked anything for you, check out more on her blog. She lives on Whidbey Island, but if you can’t make it there to hang out with her, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.