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A Time to Create. A Time to Critique. (are you putting a cork in your creative flow?)

Let’s get brutally honest for a moment. Writing — I mean really going for it — is terrifying!

Each and every time you sit down to put words on page, you’re actually transcribing a little piece of you: your wildest dreams, your deepest desires. So what if you don’t like what you see looking back at you? What if your reflection exposes you to be not the creative genius you’d hoped and imagined, but a failure and a fraud?

And that’s just the first cause of anxiety… (Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?!) As if looking at your own work wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, if you have any hope of publication, at some stage you will have to cast your story (that hard-laboured insight into your soul) before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse: people you know!

To some extent, the anxiety is only natural: the nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process!

 And yet, anxiety may be the very thing that’s putting a stopper in your creative process. You may be carrying a parasite: a little monster I like to call…

 The Horrible What-iffer

The Horrible What-iffer comes along to gawk over the shoulders of would-be writers as they attempt to plant their sapling idea into the soil of a First Draft. Then, just as that idea is about to blossom, the Horrible What-iffer strikes!

What if it’s over-the-top?   

         What if it’s too long? Too slow?  

  What if it’s not what the market’s going for these days?

         What if your characters are a bit flat?

                                                                 What if it’s just. plain. dumb?”

I guarantee, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard that measly, mettling voice of The Horrible What-iffer. His antics are enough to make Shakespeare want to drop his quill, crumple his parchment and curl up in a fetal position on the floor as he beats his brow and sobs “No one will ever want to read this RUBBISH!” (Hey, it might have happened for all we know!)

You see, the Horrible What-iffer is absolute death to your creative process as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to Creativity than self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction and eventually quitting before you ever have the chance to know what sort of full grown tree your sapling story idea would have matured into!

Thus ends tragically the career of many a writer before it’s begun. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Don’t be defeated by the Horrible What-iffer!

You can be creative. You can be self-critical. But like Harry Potter and Voldemort, the two cannot co-exist. One will eventually have to kill the other. There is only one solution: You must destroy the Horrible What-iffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how.

Imagine a big, bald tattooed club bouncer. Make him as repulsively scary as you like. Now set him to work in front of the VIP Creative Party going on in your mind every time you sit down to draft. When smarmy old Horrible What-iffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash, POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And your Creative Party can go on in peace! It takes practice, but it’s well worth the discipline to keep your story alive and moving forward.

But aren’t we writer’s supposed to self-critique? Isn’t it our job to chip away at our ideas until they become the perfected story we can present to the world with pride?

Yes… and No. We will never create the perfect Story. Aiming for perfection will again paralyze your creativity. But we can strive to write better & better stories all the time. And yes, that requires revising your story with a critical eye.

 The point here is this: make sure you’re bringing in a critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT while writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!).

Here’s why you can’t Create & Critique at the same time:

 

The writer wears two different hats: The Creator Cap (that corresponds to our creative right-brain hemisphere), and the Editor Cap (which alerts our analytical left-brain hemisphere). New writers often try wearing both hats at once, but this is a fatal error. Each one has its time to shine. The left-brain helps the right-brain turn all of its fluttering fancies into some sort of coherent plan. But then it’s time to swap hats and let Mr. Editor left-brain take a backseat while Mr. Creator right-brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor left-brain will return on the scene to analyze, problem solve and tweak away to his heart’s content while Mr. Creator gets some well-earned R&R.

And so you see, the balance between Creativity and self-criticism is like a dance! But it’s entirely up to you, the writer, to make sure criticism of your work isn’t self-criticism (product of the Horrible What-iffer), and it isn’t stepping on Creativity’s toes. That would only throw off the whole process and put you back from achieving your goals.

So next time you sit down to draft, put criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!

The Art of Asking: putting the Quest back in Question

One of my all time favourite albums is This Side by the blue grass band Nickel Creek. I’ve stolen quite a few maxims from them as well. This one’s my favourite:

Only the curious have something to find.

It’s true, isn’t it? Think of the most creative person you know. That person who always sees shapes in the clouds and pulls stories out of thin air. That person who sees the world, not as it is, but as it might be. That person who’s forever asking the question “But what if…”

Maybe that person you know was just lucky to be born with a creative soul. But then, aren’t almost all children born with a sense of awe, a readiness to absorb information &, most notable of all, a billion questions on their lips?

The problem with many of us struggling artists is not a missing ‘creative gene’ but rather a loss of our childlike sense that life is a Grand Adventure. Thinking we’ve seen it all, we stop looking (see Part II on the Art of Observation). Not wanting to appear ignorant, we stop asking questions. We become jaded, & our imagination just doesn’t work like it used to.

But what if we could revive that lost art that comes so naturally to children…        the Art of Asking?

There is a direct correlation between Curiosity and Creativity. The one fuels the other. So if you let Curiosity dry up, you can bet your Creativity will sputter out & wind up rusting in the junkyard of your busy, uninspired mind… unless you choose to embark on a quest that can reverse the hands of time & get your Creative mind banging on all cylinders again.

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3 Ways Asking Sparks Creative Thinking

In his book for cooking up Creativity, Five Star Mind, Tom Wujec explains the revitalizing power of asking questions like this:

Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest’,  suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.

1) Asking questions excites your mind out of its drowsy state by laying an open road before it.

Just like Bilbo Baggins startled from his stupor by a troop of adventuring dwarves, your brain secretly longs for a mystery to solve, a quest to fulfill. Asking questions is an invitation for the brain to step out of its routine & into an adventure.

2) Asking questions gets your brain moving. 

Wujec explains that a question puts the brain in a state of irresolution, a bit like an itch that demands scratching. And believe it or not, your brain LOVES this irresolute state! If you don’t believe it, just look at the masses of Sudoku & crossword puzzles sold in your local bookstore. The brain sees the challenge & sets right to work to scratch that itch. Before you know it, your creative mind is on fire!

Irresolution is a potent fuel, a source of energy & motivation. – Tom Wujec

3) Asking questions gives you a target & helps you aim. 

Here’s where you can apply the Art of Asking directly to your writing, & especially when you feel utterly & hopelessly stuck. Asking the right kind of questions can be the hand up you need to get you unstuck & on your way again. So just what are the “right kind” of questions? 

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The Quest for better Questions

The best questions drive us to see the bigger picture, not just the immediate problem.

For example:  Instead of Why is my protagonist so BORING?! Try What do I already know about this character?  -or- How might this character respond in another situation?

The best questions are open-ended, inviting not just one answer, but many possible solutions.

For example:  In what ways can I make my protagonist more interesting? or more believable?

Then scribble away! You’re only limited by the size of your paper.

The best questions may not lead you to a final resolution… They may even lead you to ask yet more questions! 

That’s OK! In fact, that’s the point! For the creative writer, it’s not the answers but the Art of Asking that counts. Merely asking keeps the creative mind in motion & childlike wonder alive. Mastering this art will take practice — so much unlearning to do before we can have the humility to learn afresh! But the pay-off is enormous! Just consider all the books on your shelves that began with a simple, silly question:

“What if you fell down a hole in the ground & landed upside-down in a fantasy world?”

“What if you walked into a wardrobe & found yourself in in a winter’s wood?”

“What if an ordinary boy discovered he was actually a wizard?”

Do you dare to begin the quest? Who knows where your questions may take you…

 

If you enjoyed this article, check out Got Creativity Parts I & II.   Sign up for email notifications so you never miss a writing tip!

 

4 questions to determine whether you’re feeding or starving your Creative energy

We all know it when we see it. We all want a little more of it… but what exactly is creativity anyway? Tom Wujec, creative thinking guru, hits the problem on the mark in his book Five Star Mind:

“Creativity is a familiar stranger. Trying to define it is like trying to capture a puff of smoke with your fingertips.”

How can it be that Creativity is at once so familiar–we recognize it in others all the time–and yet so strange and slippery when we try to pin it down for ourselves? We come to believe that Creativity is some sort of mystical super power with which only the select creative geniuses among us have been so fortunately graced. While they receive visions, the rest of us ordinary people dig around in the mud hoping to strike creative gold. And dang, it’s hard work!

If only there were some 5-step process to awakening your inner creative genius! If only you could be as creative as _____ (fill in the blank: that writer who seems to strike gold every time they breath)!  If only…

If I’m honest with myself, those “If only” thoughts require a vast amount of energy. Energy that might be converted into…I dunno… creative thinking? Because when it comes down to it, Creativity might be indefinable, but it is not unattainable.

I want to argue that you already have creativity. You are a creative person.

And no, you don’t just need to squeeze your eyes shut and recite the mantra “I am creative!” until you magically pop out a bestseller. I’m not talking about deluding yourself into thinking you’re creative, or even faking it until you make it. I’m suggesting that everybody’s got the ability to be creative.

Having said that, your Creativity won’t look like mine. Just think about it: we are each of us created uniquely. Doesn’t it make sense that what we create and how we create will be equally unique to each of us? What inspires you to create might not do beans for me. And now, finally, we begin to get closer to why Creativity evades definition: it is by nature always adapting, evolving, developing along with us, individually & uniquely.

Ok. So the closest we can get to defining Creativity is to accept that it defies definition–it looks different for each one us. But we still haven’t resolved how we can maximize our creative energy, whatever that means!

Well in Parts II & III of “Got Creativity”, I’ll give you some tried-&-true tools for shaking that Creative muscle awake & getting it buzzing again.

But just for now, here a couple of questions to help you determine whether you’re nourishing your own Creativity… or suffocating it.

Are you giving yourself the space & time to be Creative?

When it comes to stimulating Creativity, the problem is often not too little but too much. How often, in a quiet moment alone, do you savour a bit of mindless musing rather than reach for your smartphone & start flicking? How often do you sit back & stare out the window on long journeys or your daily commute rather than clicking on the radio/ipod/news app/etc.?

Psychologists tell us that when our brain is in information processing mode (ie. flicking through our phones or surfing the web for “inspiration”), we virtually shut down our ability to create. However, when our brains are in task negative or “boredom” mode, it’s like those creative neurons can finally clear the floor & get their dancing shoes on!

When it comes to Creativity, boredom is your friend. It’s a dying art. Letting your mind wander without any external stimulation might even intimidate you. But making that space & time for musing is the vital first step to waking up your own Creativity.

Be brave! Give it a go!

*(Creative photographers Phillip & Eileen Blume talk about the goods & evils of modern technology for Creative thought in this inspirational TedX Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOPVLuopnV0)

Are you bogged down trying to write for the Market?

As a budding writer, it’s all too easy to try and catch whatever winds the market is blowing to fill your creative sails. But don’t be caught out. Trying to perform for an ever-changing market will soon leave you in the creative doldrums.

One of the key ingredients of Creativity is passion. That’s why your creativity looks different to mine! The thing you’re passionate about, the thing that energizes & excites you, that’s the fuel for your creative fire. So keep a weather eye on the Market if you must, but don’t fret over it. Keep a journal & jot down ideas that excite you. Write what you are passionate about. Because chances are, there’s an audience out there that’s passionate about the very same thing!

Are you an Explorer?

More on this in Part III, but suffice it to say for now, Creativity happens when our minds are allowed to wonder, to inquire, to explore… No wonder kids seem to have Creativity coming out their ears!

Remember those good ol’ days as a kid, mixing up mud pies with whatever ingredients you could find in the garden? Sure, to Mum or Dad it might have looked like you were picking berries, tearing leaves and digging up earthworms. But in actuality, you were gathering mundane ingredients together to make something new & wonderfully disgusting. But that is the essence of Creativity! Like a mud pie chef, as writers we gather together our plot, our characters, our settings… we toss in a bit of our favourite books, a pinch of life experience, and… voila! Something totally new results!

So dare to take a second look at the world around you. What others see as mud you may come to see as a scrumptious pie.

Do you learn from hiccups?

Creative writing is quite a lot like cooking (& not just mud pies). You throw together the ingredients you’ve gathered, hoping to make a delicious, harmonious stew. Not every ingredient will blend & enhance as you hoped. That’s ok! The key is to let your creative ideas simmer. It takes time, trial & error. Sometimes it takes getting it wrong before you know how to set it right.

Remember, Creativity grows with you. It’s a journey, and a right fun one if you’ll except the hiccups as all part of it!

Stay tuned for Got Creativity Parts II & III! Sign up to our email list so you never miss a writing tip!

So you want to be a writer? Here’s how.

I wonder if you ever thought about this: every great author had to start from scratch.

Every successful writer out there was once a wisher… someone who wished she could write that book she’d been carrying around inside her just waiting to come out… someone, perhaps, a lot like you.  

How did they make the massive leap from wanna-be writer to real writer?

Was it a lucky break?

Was it some lightening bolt of creative genius that struck them by chance & resulted in a master piece?

I’m confident if you asked your favourite author, he would laugh before answering with a definite “Not a chance!”

So what is the secret? How do you stop wishing you were a writer & become one? I’ll tell you. Here it is, ready?

 The first three baby steps to switching gears from wanna-be to real writer

1. Declare yourself a writer 

As writing-coach Jeff Goins puts it, this is not about faking it until you make it. Deciding and declaring your status as a writer and not a wanna-be is essential to making that step. It’s about making a mental shift & setting your intention in stone. So go on. No more excuses. Write it down. Pin it on the wall. Tell a close friend: I am a writer. But of course that’s just the start… 

2. Start writing… now.

I know, I know. This one sounds like a total no-brainer. But actually, this obvious step is where most people fail to move from wanna-be to writer. Writers are people who write. Sure, they do other things too–dreaming, planning, researching–but all those things can become just ways of procrastinating from the one essential job of the writer, which is (you guessed it) WRITING! So if you want to be a writer but your’e not currently writing anything, get yourself a journal or a notepad and write something: ideas, observations, thoughts about stories you love… remember, you don’t have to write Gone With the Wind on day one. Baby steps. But you must write

3. Learn the basic tricks of the trade 

I absolutely believe the best way to become a better writer is to write, and write, and write. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Many have gone before you & picked up tricks– methods, processes, little secrets of the craft– that will make your new life as a writer a lot easier & a lot more fun. 

That’s where we come in! In June and July, we’re reposting our best writing-tips to walk you through the process & motivate you along the way. Writing a novel is an emotional roller-coaster, no matter how many times you’ve done it. There’s nothing like having a shoulder to cry on & a hand to guide you through each step. That’s what we’re here for!

So whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo in July, writing your 100th novel, or giving this whole writing thing a go for the very first time, these tips are going to help you… I can guarantee it, because they’re the same tips that’ve helped us along the way! 

So here’s your homework: Declare yourself a writer today, & let’s get writing!
Sign up for our email alerts (in the right margin) so you don’t miss a single tip!

 

Wednesday Writers’ Cafe: that magic moment

Do you remember it? That moment you just knew you HAD TO WRITE?

I’ve always felt a little intimidated by those authors who claim they’ve been writing since they were old enough to hold a pen & set out on their pathway to a writing career in the early days of Primary School.

That wasn’t me. I knew I loved stories. I knew I loved playing make-believe with my older brother & sisters, putting into action all our far-fetched narratives barefooted in our back yard. That’s when I learned resourcefulness – that a plank in a tree and a rope ladder can transform into the Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house, and a rickety old barn serves brilliantly as the ruins of a haunted castle.

But did I know in those formative days that I wanted to write my own stories for a living? To be honest, I don’t think it even occurred to me that such a thing were possible… that real books were written by real people, and not by some special Guild of Story-Makers from a far away land. You may as well have asked me if I’d like to raise a herd of unicorns when I grew up (not a bad alternative). But the seeds were sewn.

It wasn’t until later (around 12 or 13), when a character popped into my head one day during a solitary forest jaunt, & I knew I had to write her into a book. Not just for my own amusement, but for the world!

That character has been living with me ever since, growing & changing with me over the years. But she & her story have come into much sharper focus, & I hope (really hope) she will be ready to spread her wings & greet the world very soon indeed. For with her, the seeds of story have grown into a forest, the landscape of my daily life. And I’m quite sure, at the ripe old age of 28, that writing is the very occupation I was designed for. Fame & fortune are no guarantee in this business, but the glory of belonging to that illustrious Guild of Story-Makers is all the incentive I need!

That’s my story. how about yours?

Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a writer? Did you ‘always’ know? Or, like me, did you get there on a journey?

We’d love to hear a snippet of your story. Share below in the comments, or feel free to spill it all out in your own blog & link us in!

 

Is Originality Overrated?

Has this ever happened to you?

I’m 3/4 of the way through my book, having sacrificed incalculable time, sleep and emotional energy to this thing for the past year and then some. Then I walk into the bookshop for a quick browse in the Middle Grade section and… low and behold, what do I see? A debut author has just won an award for her new novel featuring a story with uncanny similarities to mine!

Bummer.

That was just one of a saga of events that has brought my story to a grinding halt, all because of this one. paralyzing. fear:

What if what I’m writing isn’t original?

If you’re a writer, you know this niggling doubt intimately. And it’s no wonder! We hear from every source that originality is what counts in publishing. “Don’t do that.. It’s already been done by Such-&-Such,” or “No one will ever write that sort of fantasy as well as this author, so you might as well not try.” And pretty soon, it can feel as though every idea has been covered, every angle explored and you’re like poor Truman in The Truman Show whose teacher dashes his hopes of becoming an explorer to smithereens when she tells him, “You’re too late. Everything’s already been discovered.

Yet we cling to hope… hope that there IS still uncharted territory in the Land of Story to be discovered!  Otherwise we may as well pack up our pens, laptops and writing manuals and call it day.

Well I’m here to affirm that hope. To fan the flame!

Dare to muse with me for a moment…

Maybe… just maybe…this originality thing is all a myth.

Maybe we’re going about it all wrong, trying to write our stories in a sanitary vacuum so as to preserve them from contamination by any element that might in any way resemble some other writer’s ideas.

Maybe “contamination” is exactly what we need…

But don’t take my word for it. Two of the great heroes of Faerie (and coincidentally two writers we’re over & over warned not draw from because we will only fall short) have in fact poo-pooed this notion of all-important originality. These Giants of Story are, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Here’s what they have to say:

First from Jack:

“Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (IV, 11)

Let’s test his theory, shall we? Think about the stories that have most touched you and changed you. What was it that impacted you so? Was it wonderful and wacky creatures you’d never before dreamed of? Or was it perhaps something else… something old… maybe even as old as Time, like a love story, or a beautiful friendship, or a character’s heroic sacrifice? In my case, it’s the latter. Sure, the old themes may be wrapped in new clothes, but it’s what’s at the heart that drives the story, not the wrapping. And we’ve all read stories that labour the wrapping to death, yet totally lack in content. Not ideal.

So take this lesson from Lewis to heart: Write about the thing you’re passionate about…the truth that drives you, that makes your heart beat. Originality will come as a byproduct, because let’s face it: every story, no matter how often it’s been told, is bound to carry the flavour of its storyteller. You, the storyteller, are unique; therefore your stories will be too!

Now let’s hear what Tolkien has to say on the matter. In his essay “On Fairy Stories”, the old master of myth describes stories as evolving from “the long alchemic processes of time.” The process is, Tolkien says, a bit like a stewing cauldron of soup… or “Cauldron of Story.”

“The Cauldron of Story has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”

Can’t you just picture it? All the myths, histories, legends and fairy tales ever told simmering together in a great cauldron? There is a bit of Arthurian legend, and there a chunk of Greek mythology, and, ooh! What’s that? I’m catching a whiff of Irish folktale.

The point is, nobody writes a story from scratch. We are all influenced. We all dip from the Cauldron of Story. BUT – and what a wonderful thought – that means you & I dip from the same pot all the great “original” authors have dipped from — The Brothers Grimm, Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling… you name them!

The important question then, is not “Am I being original enough?

Instead ask,”What will I draw out of the Cauldron? Take the good advice of our fore-bearers – draw out the flavours you find most delicious… the ones that make your heart sing and write about those.

And who knows? You may find that without really even meaning to, you’ve added a new pinch of flavour all your own to the Soup!

Daily Doses of Magic: the world-builder’s diet

I confess. I am a sucker for Fantasy Worlds – for the soaring landscapes of Middle Earth, the heart-wrenching beauty of Narnia, the delicately spun fabric of Faerie. When I read descriptions of such supremely beautiful realms, destined for epic adventure, I get lost like the Pevensie children and never want to return to the ordinary world I live in.

Of course I want to create worlds as wonderful for my characters! Worlds my readers will happily get lost in. But when it comes time to build them, I always feel that I’m falling deplorably short. I almost believe that other writers whose worlds have transported me have actually been transported themselves. That’s how they do it! They have a window into Fairyland that I’ve yet to find. If only I could get a glimpse. If only…

Do you ever pine for that glimpse into Faerie as well, sure that you’ll never spin a satisfactory world of your own until you find that magical window?

So I might be pining away forever… but then I venture to the forest on a fine summer’s morning with my dog, and the trees whisper some sense into my wistful head: “Here is your window, you silly thing! The very same that your fairy tale for-bearers looked into for inspiration. It’s called Nature, and it’s positively buzzing with magic!”

G.K. Chesterton wrote, true to his style, a supremely sensible essay called “The Ethics of Elfland” which recaptures the lost wonder of this fairyland we live in. My morning, woodland walk brought home something he’d said, and I had to agree:

The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery… this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic.

His point? Nature is as surprising and mysterious as any fairy realm ever could be. We have simply got used to her habits and labelled them as ‘laws’… rather unromantically. But what if you went outside for the first time and saw the world with fresh eyes? Chesterton reckons the fairy tale’s purpose is to teach us to do just that.

These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

So here is my challenge to you (as well as to myself in the midst of a world-building project!). Start an observation journal. Just try it. Make it a habit to observe one detail – however grand or minuscule – in Nature each day, with fresh eyes of wonder that it is as it is. After all, it might have been some other way. Or as Chesterton puts it, apple trees might have produced candlesticks instead of apple blossoms!

When it comes to creating fantasy worlds, there is nothing new under the sun. As world builders, the only colours we have to paint with are the ones Nature offers us. But Nature is hardly a miser – what a wealth of resources she has to offer! So go outside, marvel at the Elfland that is our home. Then take all those colours and all that marvel and paint a world in words. Enjoy!

In honor of this theme, I’ve dug out a very, VERY old poem I wrote as a kid. Rarely do I post poetry for the world to see, but as this one comes from a far distant life, I shall make an exception!

“Daily Doses of Magic”

In January,
Falls with silent grace
A glistening shower of soft white lace.
The earth with pride is sure to glow,
When dressed in a shimmering gown of snow.

Magic’s yours for the taking,
If only you dare.
If you’ve not yet claimed it,
You must not care.

In February,
When nature’s left bare by the cold,
Is a grand time to go out hunting Leprechauns’ gold.
Take a peak in mum’s garden, or on window sills
For the shining golden heads of spring’s first daffodils.

Magic’s a treasure most precious,
Though not terribly rare.
So don’t waste one more moment
Before claiming your fair share.

In gently March,
When earth’s long sleep is shook,
The sprite’s and pixies sneak out for a look.
But should spring showers threaten their fun with gloom,
They’ll pop up, spit spot, and umbrella mushroom.

Magic’s no fib,
No story, or fable.
Don’t suppose you can’t find it.
You are perfectly able.

In April,
Sky’s majestic concerts play
While silver streamers the night array.
Tucked snug in bed, safe, dry, and warm,
You can listen to the music of a spring thunderstorm.

Magic’s no secret,
It’s as plain as blue sky.
If you’d like me to prove it,
Why just open your eyes.

In May
When day gives way to night,
I watch the flickering fairy lights.
They disappear in the blink of an eye.
What a curious creature, the firefly!

Magic isn’t just in books.
If you haven’t found it,
You haven’t looked.

In June,
You’ll find a magical gem
To put in your pocket should you have the whim.
Watch violet turn green before your eyes
When june bug opens his wings and flies.

Magic comes in packages
Of every size.
Should you come across it,
Don’t be surprised.

In hot July,
While seaside dreaming,
I can hear the mermaids singing.
There sweet and mystic voices swell
Deep down inside an old conch shell.

Magic’s in every cranny and nook.
If you’ve not yet found it,
You’ve not yet looked.

In August,
Silvery silken nets are cast
To catch moon droplets of liquid glass.
Morn’s sunbeams turn these to dew drops instead,
That dangle from each dainty spiderweb thread.

No need for a wand, spellbook,
Or white rabbit.
If it’s magic you seek
Just reach out and grab it.

In September,
When nights are cool, crisp, and quite clear,
The sky’s faithful watchman is sure to appear.
A sign that fall’s magic will be upon the world soon,
Is the sleepy-eyed man on the pale harvest moon.

Magic’s oh so much more
Than a make-believe game.
Why, to miss out on magic
Would be a most dreadful shame.

In October,
You may encounter upon neighbors’ porches
A mischievous nimph with eyes shining like torches.
But don’t be alarmed by his snaggle-toothed grin,
For jack-o-laterns, quite often, make jolly good friends.

So if life’s too ordinary,
Then do precisely as I say:
Take a daily dose of magic,
And add dazzle to each day.

In November,
Fair rubies drip from trees;
But shaken by an autumn breeze,
They dance down gracefully as you please,
To make fall’s rainbow rug of leaves.

Magic’s there, it doesn’t hide.
If you haven’t seen it,
You haven’t tried.

In December,
When magic falls in drifts like the snow,
A billion flick’ring candles set all earth aglow.
On still, frosty nights, these bring joy near and far,
To hearts warmed and eyes twinkling under heaven’s kind stars.

So whatever the season, day, or the hour,
Enjoying some magic requires no special powers.
Just open those eyes up,
Dust off your nose and ears.
With practice, you’ll find magic every day of the year!

Wednesday Writers’ Cafe: paper & ink? or keyboard & screen?

In this era of digital EVERYTHING, many writers plan, write & edit their work entirely on screen. But biros & parchment haven’t entirely been regulated to curiosity cabinets quite yet. Neil Gaiman still hand writes his novels, J.K. Rowling spent five years creating her magical world in hand-scribbled notes on just about any scrap of paper she could find, and G.R.R. Martin types out his never-ending saga Game of Thrones on an old  word-processor machine…(no wonder we’re still awaiting the last installment!).

There are certainly pros & cons to any method. Some writers feel the only way to think freely is on paper where you can doodle, scratch out & squeeze notes into the margins to your heart’s content. But of course there’s the practical side of things– typing is quicker & removes the agonizing step of transposing your handwritten notes to type later.

The jury is still out on this one. So let’s hear what you think:

How do you prefer to write: by hand? or straight onto the screen?

Or maybe it’s a little of both? Comment below or write about your preferred “dark writing materials” in your own blog & link back to us here at Brewhaha Book Cafe.

Whatever method you’re using to churn out your stories today, happy writing!

Interview with author/illustrator Anna Caroline Grant (top tips from a born artist)

If Creativity were contagious, every struggling author and artist would want to hang around with Anna Caroline Grant. To this bright, articulate, life-loving ten-year-old, creating seems as natural a thing as breathing… or dancing, in her case. Her recent works include such novelties as the legend of why the willow tree weeps, and the chronicles of a traveling bouncy ball. I’ve had the pleasure of proofing quite a few of her illustrated stories, and my reaction is always the same: “How does she come up with these amazing ideas?!” followed by, “Why can’t I think up ideas like these?!” The answer is simple: because Anna Caroline is one of a kind, and her stories and pictures reflect that to a tee.

Anna hails from the USA, but lives in Spain along with two parents, four siblings and one dog. I was lucky enough to pin down this little sprite in the midst of her busy, creative daily life and ask her a few questions about her creative process. Read the interview below & prepare to be inspired!

Q: When did you first start writing & illustrating?                                                                        A:“I knew I was going to create children’s books since I was 4.” Of course, back in those days, Anna’s stories were much simpler — a description of a flower or a fairy. But Anna explains that her stories have grown along with her. “I’ve been writing stuff like that until now, when I’m writing stuff I feel like I’m going to publish.” And with her winning attitude mixed with dedication to her craft, getting published is only a matter of time for Anna. So next, I wanted to know…

Q: Where do you get your ideas?                                                                                                        

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Anna’s illustrations are characterized by emotive power & attention to detail

A: “That is a very good question!” Anna exclaims, stopping to consider. It seems her sources are myriad. But one stands out from the crowd. “So the key to this is reading other books.”Anna gives an example of recently reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and getting an idea to write about an unlikely animal friendship. “Not a pig and a spider, because that would be copying.” The key is mixing bits of inspiration together to form something new, Anna explains, like cooking up a story stew. “I put that idea with an idea from another book, and it makes a new story that’s a bunch of other stories mixed together.”

Funny thing is, I recall a very similar description of story-making from another, much older author by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien. Looks like Anna’s in good company!

Besides books she’s reading for fun, Anna also gets ideas from her language classes at school. She explains how studying parts of speech gives her the tools she needs to write descriptively. And then it’s down to practice. Sounds like a lot of work goes into these wild and wonderful stories, so I’m wondering…    IMG_1849

Q: What’s the best part of writing and illustrating?                                                             A:That answer comes easy: “Illustrations!” I recently attended an interview with some of Britain’s most celebrated author/illustrators included Oliver Jeffers, and I was curious to hear how Anna would answer this question that they all seemed to struggle with…

Q: What come first, the story or the picture?      A:“I always think of an image in my head first,” Anna answers without a moment’s hesitation. “For example, I read a fairy book and think of a fairy that can’t fly.” For Anna, all it takes is one image like that flightless fairy to give birth to a whole story. She makes it sound so straight-forward, so easy! So I have to ask…

Q: What’s the hardest part?                                                                                                                      A:(Having been pulling my hair out over my latest book this week, I’m bowled over by her answer) “It’s mostly easy… but if I had to pick a hard part, it’s when I can’t think of the next story to write.” But Anna is a classic glass-half-full person, so even those stuck-in-the-mud moments can’t keep her down for long. “In those tough times… you just write descriptively,” she says confidently, as if it’s a given that stories come out of writing what you see just like apples come from apple blossoms. And why not? It’s clearly working for Anna, though I still suspect she has some secret super-power when it comes to Creativity. So I ask her to spill the beans…

Q: What advice can you give to kids or grownups who want to be writers but don’t know where to start?

A: Anna’s top tips are GOLDEN NUGGETS: *(DO NOT MISS THESE!)

  1. Do the first thing that comes into your mind. If you don’t like it, you can just do something else.
  2. Keep practicing and keep reading
  3. Look back at old stuff you’ve read or written. Sometimes you just need to put the pieces together.
  4. Anna’s #1 piece of advice:

The secret to drawing and writing is to try to have fun doing it. Not just thinking ‘this is important. I have to do this perfectly.’ Don’t take it too seriously so it’s ‘Think, Think, Think.’ Think about it for a moment and then write it! Just do it!

My suspicions prove true. The pixie dust that gives Anna’s Creativity flight is special to her, but it’s also something we can all take away from her approach to creating stories and art. It’s supposed to be FUN!

And that’s what inspires me so much about Anna Caroline Grant. She works hard, but her stories flow out of a joyful, life-loving spirit. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t love doing it? Take it from this 10-year-old, and watch this space! You’ll be seeing her name at your local bookshop ‘ere long! But for now, here’s an exclusive sneak peak at Anna’s new venture: illustrated poetry!

“A Child’s Dream of Nature”

by Anna Caroline Grant

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Inspiration: “Looking out the window!”

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