Unlocking Imagination One Page at a Time

Liz Garton Scanlon Follows the Threads

I believe that in the beginning, writing is intuitive. I believe in the muse. I believe that we are visited by ideas in our sleep. I believe in signs and in magic. I believe in craft, too. I do. But that’s for later. The shaping, the skill, the rules and revisions and best practices. First comes an openness to possibility and a willingness to be ridiculous and wrong, but also, just maybe, to be right. It is tha optimism — the “hey, I may be onto something here” — that carries us from blank page to story. Each day, as a writer, I follow little threads of image and thought, and I discover what I might make from them, the way a bird does as she nests. Some of the threads are lasting and substantial, others get pulled out and float away, others still get saved and turned into something else, later. We would all like to start with something solid — the whole nest, tangible and reliable and lovely — or, at the very least, with some sense of what will become solid, what is worth our early effort. But it doesn’t work that way. There’s no telling. Some of the best titles I ever came up with never got a story to go with them. Some of my lowliest ideas became books. Nothing is revealed until after we begin pulling and weaving and teasing and building and playing. There’s no skipping this stage. It is how we get to what is real. Prompt #12:  Set a timer for two minutes and during those two minutes, take in and write down everything you can: Your current thoughts. What you skin feels like. The […]

Bring On The CHAOS with Linda Ashman

Some creative folks seem to thrive on a certain amount of chaos. I’m not one of them. If my desk, my inbox, or my schedule is cluttered (or worse, if all of them are in disarray, as they are as I write this, in the midst of the holiday hubbub), then my brain feels cluttered and my writing suffers.

Although I don’t like messiness in my life, I do like it in my stories. In fact, one of my favorite plotting strategies can be summed up in two words:  “Chaos ensues.” This works best when you’re going for humor (which, by the way, is something editors frequently say they’re looking for). Here are three examples from my books:

When an inept magician is a last-minute replacement at a birthday party, chaos ensues.  (Maxwell’s Magic Mix-Up, illustrated by Regan Dunnick)

When a forgetful family sets off for a day at the beach, chaos ensues.  (To the Beach!, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott)

When a first-time skater starts rolling down a steep hill . . . well, you get the idea.  (Samantha on a Roll, illustrated by Christine Davenier)

But what sort of chaos, exactly?  That depends on your story. But if, like me, you write picture books, you want your chaos to have lots of visual impact. Think slapstick. Think messy action verbs: slipping, falling, spilling, breaking, bumping, colliding, crashing. For example, as Samantha races downhill, she plows into Matt, snags Katie’s kite, collides with a bride and groom, and overturns an ice-cream stand, among other calamities. To add to the mayhem, her adventure (conveniently) happens on the same day as the town parade, allowing me to put a fire brigade, marching band, and assorted spectators in her path.

If […]

Ammi-Joan Paquette Makes The Ordinary Extraordinary

I vividly remember a moment several winters ago when I experienced the kind of revelation that reinforced why I am, and will always be, a fiction writer. I sat in full winter gear on a ski lift. We had nearly reached the top of the mountain, and the snowy white run below us was rimmed with craggy winter trees. As I sat enjoying the view, I contemplated those trees, and—oddly, I admit—what went through my mind was, “Wouldn’t it be weird if those trees suddenly burst into flame?” Laughing a little at myself for the thought, I nonetheless took a moment to analyze it. I’m not one of those literal believe-in-magic types so, no, I didn’t actually think anything like that was going to happen. But here is the moment I’ll always remember: it occurred to me that if by some weird freak change that did happen, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. And I think this is the magic of fiction: expect the unexpected. And bring it to life on the page.

Prompt #10: Take an ordinary moment from your day today (or sometime this week). Then toss in a wildly unexpected, freak-of-nature occurrence. How do you (or your main character) react? What happens next?

A Bit About Joan
The road to publication may have been long and winding for Ammi-Joan Paquette but she has wasted no time making her mark.  In 2005, Joan was named a PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award honoree and in 2008 she won SCBWI’s Susan Landers Glass Scholarship Award.  Since then she has published four picture books: THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood), THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS (Tanglewood), GHOST IN THE HOUSE (Candlewick), PETEY AND […]

David Harrison Boils It All Down to One Word

For the first several years of my career I worried about finding perfect ideas. I read where Ted Geisel claimed to go to a certain store and buy them by the sack full but suspected that he was pulling our legs. Eventually I realized that the idea isn’t the only thing that matters. What a writer brings to the game matters. How could I make my writing strong enough to grab my reader by the collar and lift him into my story before he could shrug it off or reach for a magazine? That’s when I began to sell my work. My most recent storybook was inspired by the problem of getting rid of raccoons in our attic. One before that came from fretting over my spreading bald spot.

Now I believe that successful writers exercise their skills just as swimmers swim for practice or singers vocalize up and down the scales. My blog offers a monthly prompt called Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. I provide one word. That’s it. Poets think about the word until ideas begin to grow. Just about any word will do: dirt, awning, book, stone, song, and word are only a few of dozens that have been posted. The goal is to practice teasing out the stories tucked away in the current month’s word. There is no idea until the poet provides his/her own. This is an exercise but over the years there have been many excellent poems shared by poets in the U.S. and in other countries. Maybe practice makes perfect after all.

Prompt #9:  Use the word FIRST to get you started.  Think about the word until your ideas begin to grow then write a poem or 1-2 […]

Title Talk with Tara Lazar

I like titles that POP. Snap and crackle, too, if they can. Most of my best book ideas begin as poppy, snappy titles. I know that “high concept” picture books sell—both to the publisher and to the public—so I think in that direction.

Therefore, my writing process often begins with a title and builds from there. Sometimes, as in my latest manuscript, the title is so inspiring, I begin writing immediately and words just spill out. I can envision the entire book from the title alone.

Other times, the title comes quickly but it doesn’t make me want to write. The idea needs to marinate. I think and stare at my computer. I could be thinking and not writing for days—and I don’t beat myself up over this process. I don’t feel guilty about not writing every day. This is just how I work. If I were to begin writing before I felt the idea was ready, the manuscript would be a mess. Yes, there’s always revision, but I prefer STARING before committing words to paper (or, more accurately, screen). It’s why I often say my process is 99% staring and only 1% writing.

Prompt #8: Let’s kick the year off with a title exercise.

Lie down on the floor, lift both legs at once, count to 20…

Sorry, did you really do that? I was just kidding.

Instead, take a picture book title that you really love. Now, write the first few pages of the book with YOUR story. Don’t repeat the story that the author wrote, but come up with a new story based only upon the title. How would you do the story differently? Don’t stop to edit; let the title be your guide and just go […]


We’ve made it through the first week of START THE YEAR OFF WRITE.  Woo-hoo!  I couldn’t be happier with how it’s going so THANK YOU to everyone who is has helped my vision become a reality.

I’m excited about week two and the amazing authors coming up including Tara Lazar, David Harrison, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Linda Ashman, Liz Garton Scanlon, Adam Rubin, and Kristen McGill Fulton!  I have a few announcements I wanted to pass along but I don’t want to interrupt too much of your writing time so I’m going to try to keep this brief.

1)         Make every exercise work for you.  It counts for “credit” if you give the exercise a good effort.  If it doesn’t fit you perfectly, then curtail it to fit your project/your current needs.  Remember, the purpose of this challenge is to try new things to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your writing not to direct your attention away from your work.

2)         If you signed up on the blog to receive daily emails for Start The Year Off Write and are NOT are receiving them, please check your spam folder and add my email address (shannon@shannonabercrombie.com) to your contacts folder.   If you’re still not receiving them after those changes, email me, I have a few more trouble-shooting steps to share!

3)         If you’re just joining Start The Year off Write or you’ve fallen behind on a few of the prompts, you have until midnight on January 31st to comment on any of the author’s blogs for “credit” towards the prizes.  (I hope it goes without saying but PLEASE do not comment on every blog the last day.  That defeats the purpose of committing yourself to develop your craft.  The extra days are to help accommodate […]