I was doing a school presentation a year ago. Afterwards, two teachers hurried over and were nearly jumping with excitement. One said, “We wanted to know if something traumatic in your childhood led you to write about nature.” I was surprised. What an interesting question. As I thought about it, I realized there were two traumatic events, the first being my parents’ divorce when I was nine. When your family suddenly breaks up and you move across town, away from your best friends, your world is upside-down. Nothing makes sense. And that’s when I started writing about nature — little rhyming poems. Nature makes perfect sense. There’s a reason for everything. Why a seed breaks out of its seed coat and lets gravity pull its roots to the minerals, and stretches toward the sun. Why there are teeny tiny holes on egg shells — so oxygen reaches the creature growing inside.
My break-out book was AN EGG IS QUIET (Chronicle). I was wandering around the neighborhood one spring and began collecting the eggshells of newly hatched chicks. I wondered, “Why is it speckled?” and “Why is this one blue?” My mom had told me a story about a 3-year-old boy who was in school. The teacher said, “Dusty, tell us a little something about eggs.” He thought and thought and finally said, “An egg is quiet.” Thirty years later, his lovely response became a book. I didn’t even realize I was writing science books until the American Academy for the Advancement of Science/Subaru awarded it best science book/picture books. As we were waiting for the ceremony, the man who won for Young Adult said, “Why didn’t you include the platypus?” Oh.My.God. Our next book, due out in 2015, is A NEST IS NOISY. The platypus’ nest is in that one.
So: Butt in Chair, triple check your research and cite the sources. (This rule is the same for both non-fiction and fiction writers). You need this to be eligible for awards. Surround yourself with people who support your greatness. Get critiques. Go to conferences. Join SCBWI. And have a ball!
Prompt #7: Author Kate DiCamillo told me once to clear her brain for writing, she does something called Morning Pages. I think it’s from the book THE ARTIST’S WAY. You basically just sit down and let all your thoughts flow and you do not take your hand off the page.
For instance, my morning pages might read:
“I like my coffee. It is a pretty day. Buzz, not thinking of anything now. What will I write about? I feel a little scared. whoops, gosh. this exercise is stupid but if it clears my monkey brain of noise, i’m happy to do it. sigh. what would i do if i won the lottery buy a big house and make it a kibbutz for troubled girls who want to go to school/university and turn their lives around. take turns with chores. cook healthy from organic garden. support each other’s dreams. i need another cup of coffee.”
You just write as long or little as you want. Notice I don’t pay attention to grammar. I just write and because I’m always thinking about my stories I usually find my way into them.
Today, give it a try. Sit down and write whatever comes out. Shoot for 1 -2 pages. It doesn’t have to make any sense. Let your thoughts lead you. Some people believe this exercise clears their thoughts so their characters and stories can come to the surface. Others say it just helps not to have a blank page. What do you think?
Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of many books for children, including the award-winning AN EGG IS QUIET and A SEED IS SLEEPY, DREAM SOMETHING BIG and A BUTTERFLY IS PATIENT. THE MOON OVER STAR, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, received a Coretta Scott King Honor, 2009 and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama chose to read it at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C. in February ’09. (video)
In addition to writing for children, Dianna has established an annual Teen Writer’s Workshop for underprivileged Mexican teens and manages her non-profit foundation, The Oz Project. The Oz Project provides inspirational experiences to children in orphanages, rural villages, and children with special needs, encouraging kids to dream without limits. As a hot air balloon enthusiast, she primarily accomplishes the mission of The Oz Project with hot air ball rides.
To learn more about Dianna click here or look for her in Port Aransas, Texas aboard the Maiden American where she currently lives.