Writers tend to be a worrying sort. We spend a lot of time in our heads, we have active imaginations, and that combo can lead to some pretty incredible worries.
One of the most important keys to succeeding as a writer is worrying about the right things. Sweat the things that actually matter and you’ll save yourself from spinning in an unproductive way.
Here are some things you should worry about and things you shouldn’t worry about:
Don’t: Worry about your idea being “stolen”
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Even your most brilliant, game-changing ideas have probably already been dreamed up by someone before you. The idea that someone is going to swoop in and beat you to the punch isn’t something that’s worth worrying about.
There are plenty of cases of books and movies with very similar ideas coming out around the same time. There are tons of great ideas in the ether. Your book is not going to live or die based on one idea.
Do: Worry about how you execute that idea
As I point out in my guide to writing a novel, there were wizard schools before Harry Potter, there were mystical lands before The Lord of the Rings, and there were helicopters with dorky names before Fifty Shades of Grey.
What set those novels apart was the execution of those ideas. Don’t worry about coming up with a completely original idea. Do worry about how you set your novel apart.
Don’t: Worry so much about that element of your writing you’re already worried about
Every writer has at least one or two fears that influence how they write.
For instance: I’m always worried I’m boring the reader. I don’t want any stretches that are going to put someone to sleep and make them put down the book.
Unfortunately, because I’m so worried about boring the reader, I end up over-correcting the other way and I don’t add in enough description and emotional reactions. I actually have to guard against my fear and force myself to write things that feel like tedium to me, but feel totally normal to a reader.
Almost by definition, because you’re so worried about something in your writing you’re not going to do that thing.
I’ve seen so many different ways this phenomenon manifests itself when I’m working with authors on their books. Some people worry they aren’t providing enough context and end up over-explaining, some people don’t like novels that jump around so they end up being overly linear, some people are worried their book is going to read like everyone else’s so they write overly purple prose.
Once you know how this manifests itself for you, you’re probably going to have to go back and pull yourself the other way to end up in the sweet spot.
Do: Worry about your writing blind spots
The biggest problems in your writing are inevitably things that are difficult for you to spot. And it makes sense: if you could have spotted them yourself you would have corrected them already.
These are your blind spots, and it’s why you should have your work edited before you self-publish or try to find a literary agent. You need other people to help you see things you would have had trouble spotting yourself.
Don’t: Worry about what happens with any one agent
Sometimes writers follow agents on social media or find out who represents their favorite books and start getting their heart set on that one agent as the be all end all of agents.
Don’t do this. The right agent is the one who gets you and gets your book and wants to be your advocate. And you’ll never be able to predict who this person is going to be when you start the process.
Cast a wide net and keep an open mind. Even if you colossally mess up a submission with one agent, it’s not the end of the world.
Do: Worry about whether an agent is good and reputable
A bad agent is worse than no agent.
The tricky thing is that it’s hard to spot bad agents from the outside. They may well look by all accounts to be well-intentioned and reputable, and even worse, they may not even know they’re a bad agent.
Artist:kalime80 Title: Meeting/mating Media: Watercolurs Rating: G Prompt: #62 submitted by Kitty-fic Summary: Draco is a leafy sea dragon merman; Harry is a lion fish merman. As soon as they see each other, a courtship dance ensues. Notes: I was really inspired by this prompt, and I hope I made it justice. As usual, a big thank you to the mods for being kind, helpful and wonderful.
“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Today I’m happy to welcome back award-winning author and poet Kate Coombs to talk about her new poetry picture book, Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (Sounds True, 2017).
Kate introduces the practice of mindfulness to children with fourteen poems that foster an awareness, appreciation and respect for nature through close observation and introspection, which in turn engenders a newfound sense of self.
With Anna Emilia Laitinen’s gorgeous watercolors, each double page spread is an invitation to pause, enter the world of the poem, and internalize the soothing imagery. Kate’s choice of the tanka (five lines divided into syllables of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7) is the perfect vehicle for brief but meaningful contemplation. The book begins with a centering awareness of breath and presence:
I breathe slowly in, I breathe slowly out. My breath is a river of peace. I am here in the world. Each moment I can breathe and be.
Subsequent poems illuminate various facets of mindfulness and meditation: objectively observing the flow of thoughts that “swim by like little fish,” finding a “quiet place” in the mind when seeking solace, imagining oneself as an element of nature (cloud, stone, river, seed, tree), and living in the moment:
Tomorrow’s an egg that hasn’t hatched. Yesterday is a bird that has flown. But today is real. Here now, this minute, the true wings.
Young readers will be able to see how nature can be a reassuring refuge in times of trouble, worry, sadness, or other emotional imbalance. By summoning the inner self, they can be a “calm umbrella” in the face of turbulence, or a strong, steadfast tree that remains patient in all seasons.
When days crash thunder and throw lightning around I am still, watching. I am a calm umbrella inside the blue and gray storm.
Envisioning each floating leaf in a stream as a negative thought drifting away can quiet overwhelming concerns. Above all, cultivating the ability to look within as well as without will enable them to “see the world new” and feel more “alive in this world.”
The illustrations feature a small group of multi-ethnic children in a northern landscape interacting with their surroundings atop tree branches and in hammocks, walking through the woods, and playing together by a campfire, on a hillside, in a boat, under a tent. There are trees in almost every picture and lots of small animals to delight and surprise. The peaceful image of toy boats drifting downstream, a tree-flock of fluttering birds, and a bevy of playful rabbits add to the charm, while butterflies and tadpoles signal transformation.
Sometimes I’m a cloud. Sometimes a mountain or a stone. Sometimes I’m a river, a small seed or a great tree. But I am always me.
A haven of stillness and beauty, Breathe and Be offers children and their parents a delightful, attainable path to inner peace and a renewed reverence for the natural world. After all, when was the last time you sat on a hillside to watch the clouds drift by, wiggled your toes in the sand, strolled through the woods to hear the whisper of leaves, or lazed in a hammock just “being”?
I see myself by the ocean, toes touching sand, fingers finding a shell at the edge of blue water. Where is your quiet place?
Let’s find out more about the book from Kate!
AUTHOR CHAT WITH KATE COOMBS
What inspired you to write a book of mindfulness poems for kids?
I actually wrote the book on spec! A writing friend of mine had become the children’s editor for Sounds True, which was just starting to publish children’s books such as Good Morning Yoga. She gave me a couple of topics and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of mindfulness. I started researching it and then wrote Breathe and Be. As you can imagine, it turned out to be a really rich experience.
Why did you choose tanka as your poetic form, and why did you write them in first person?
Mindfulness has its roots in Asian religion and philosophy, so I felt the tanka made a good fit. I thought about using haiku, but it just isn’t long enough for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I wanted each poem to be a comfortable, thoughtful little space to wander about in. I didn’t really notice that I wrote in first person! I think it probably made a good fit because mindfulness and meditation are very personal.
Please tell us a little about your writing process. Did you write most of the poems outdoors?
I did a lot of online research about mindfulness in addition to getting a few books, and I copied and pasted some of the ideas and lists and definitions I found into a document. Then I tried to turn each of the rather abstract ideas into an imagistic poem. Show, don’t tell! Although I didn’t write outside, my office windows overlook a tree-filled canyon, which is a good fit for this book full of trees.
When did you first learn to meditate? What is your daily practice like now?
True confessions: I’m not the world’s best meditator. However, I have learned that being in nature helps me experience mindfulness. I think that’s why this book turned out to be such a celebration of the natural world. I have a pine and scrub oak forest in the small canyon out back, plus 30 houseplants and a balcony herb garden. I wouldn’t know how to live without plants and trees. But with them and other beautiful things, like water and clouds, not to mention birds and bugs, I can be mindful. You don’t need a yoga mat to find peace and focus in nature. Though you can always lie down on your back in the grass!
How has practicing mindfulness fueled your creativity?
Mindfulness pulled me in and trying to describe it fueled my creativity. I did start entering a state of mindfulness as I wrote about it. More and more, I experienced the poems mindfully. It’s the most unusual experience I’ve ever had as a writer, creating and then living in a beautiful, tranquil space.
Describe your “quiet place.”
Both of my quiet places are featured in the book: a forest and an ocean shore. To be specific, my forest is in Sequoia National Park. Although I love simply walking the paths among the huge trees, my favorite spots are Round Meadow and Crescent Meadow in the Giant Forest area. Each meadow is filled with green growing things illuminated by sunlight, and each is surrounded by giant Sequoia trees, pines, and undergrowth. There is a combination of quiet and noise there, but the noises are the buzzing of bees and the wind through the grasses and branches. The sky is very blue.
My ocean shore is a beach along the Southern California coast just north of L.A., a little spot called Leo Carrillo that is part of a state park. When we were young we used to go boogie boarding there, but now I’m happy sitting and watching the waves, or walking along the damp sand just beyond the reach of the water, looking at little rocks and shells, the surf and sky, and seabirds, especially pelicans.
Please share your reactions to seeing Anna Emilia Laitinen’s illustrations for the first time. Which is your favorite spread and why?
I first saw the pencil sketches, and they were wonderful—I quickly fell in love with Anna Emilia’s beautiful work. I think its delicacy and peace match the quiet mood of the poems. Like Anna Emilia, I love nature, especially trees. The artwork makes me want to go for a walk in the woods.
I like all of the spreads, but I’m particularly fond of the little fish, just their colors and the way they swirl across the pages, with the children looking a bit like fish themselves.
What thoughts, happy or sad, are floating by you at this very moment?
I’ve had a tough year, but a lot of happy things have come into my life recently, and this book being published is one of them. Even though I know it’s my book, it feels like such a gift because it brings me comfort and happiness when I read it or even think about it. So that’s how I’m feeling right now!
Anything else you’d like us to know about the book?
I found out that the tanka is actually the predecessor of the haiku. Haiku is a cool little format, especially for pinpointing moments in nature. However, the tanka has more leeway both in terms of length and subject matter. I’ve seen it written with a very boring diamond-shaped formula in schools, but the real deal is much better. I hope this book will help kids experiment with writing tanka.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been regrouping lately after experiencing some writer’s block. I’m revising a picture book about traditional Polynesian navigation and I have a few other nonfiction picture books in mind. I’m also revisiting a poetry collection that has languished for months. I have a couple of middle grade projects on the back burner, as well. So we’ll see what happens!
I do have another poetry collection coming out next fall. It’s called Monster School and is a lot of fun, hopefully a little scary, too.
Thanks so much, Kate!!
BREATHE AND BE: A Book of Mindfulness Poems written by Kate Coombs illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen published by Sounds True, November 1, 2017 Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp. *Includes an Author’s Note with more info about mindfulness
Take a few minutes to bask in the beauty and stillness: Enjoy this lovely reading of Breathe and Be:
SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY!
The publisher has generously donated a copy of Breathe and Befor one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your favorite “quiet place” no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, November 22, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with BREATHE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
The lovely, talented, and tea-drinking Jane is hosting the Roundup at Raincity Librarian. Float over there on your autumn leaf of choice and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Go in peace.
Artist:oldenuf2nb Title: In Papa's Arms Media: graphite on art stock Rating: G Prompt: #33 submitted by sassy_cissa Summary: from The Scent of Violets by sassy_cissa Notes: I've always loved this fic, almost as much as I love sassy_cissa
Harry gently patted the small bundle in his arms, making small shushing noises at the whimpering infant. "What's wrong, little man?" Harry said softly. "Your tummy's full and your nappy is clean, all should be right in your world. Shhh, let's not wake up your Papa. He's barely recovered from what you put him through getting here." He shifted his son to lie in his arms. The hunter green blanket surrounding the infant emphasized the shock of messy blond hair and gave depth to the green eyes that stared up at his father. Harry kissed his son's forehead and whispered conspiratorially, "Besides we wouldn't want him to think I can't take care of you, now would we?"
Once when I was in college I wanted to die so badly that I stood on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Maine and tried to decide which car to jump in front of. There were lots of reasons I felt that way at the time and one of those reasons was my seizure medication had thrown my entire body and brain totally out of whack. At one point, I was insisting that elephants were dancing with King Kong outside the window of my off-campus housing.
But honestly? The reasons don't matter any more. What mattered was the pain. What mattered is that I wanted to die because I thought that I hurt too much to live.
One of my friends, Eric Stamper, got me through it. He was an angel boy.
That and I felt too badly for the driver of the car.
And, yeah, I didn't want to get paralyzed. The plan didn't seem fool-proof enough.
And, I also thought about God and life and existence being a gift even if it is a TERRIBLY difficult gift sometimes.
But for five minutes I stood on the side of the road and hurt and thought about ending the hurt and how I could do that without hurting too many other people. I couldn't think of a way, which is part of why I am still here.
Artist:decynthus Title: Dancing Ti'kira Media: buttercream icing and sprinkles on chocolate cake Rating: G Prompt: #10 submitted by awickedmemory Summary: “It's called Ti'kira," said Draco. "It's a ritual dance that's part of the traditional wizarding wedding rites." He paused for a second, then explained further. "The steps and gestures of the dance create a pattern spell out of the old magic, a binding spell to seal the couple's vows and complete the ceremony." Draco studied Harry's face, his eyes intense, bright in the moonlight. "I will never dance this with anyone else," he added softly. "Will you . . . dance with me?"
Draco's voice held a solemn gravity that made Harry shiver as he understood the serious nature of what Draco was telling him, and what he was asking. "Yes," said Harry, equally serious though excitement began to well up inside him for what it seemed they were about to do, what Draco would teach him and make of them tonight. And Harry knew without any other words needing to be said that this would be real for them, that two hearts could bind themselves to each other just as surely by mutual consent and the magic of a moonlit dance as in a real wedding, even if only they themselves were witness. "I will dance with you," he said.
Notes: I'm sorry, awickedmemory, if this is fluffier than what you had in mind, but this scene sprang to mind immediately when I saw the prompt. Thanks to the mods for all your hard work, and especially to naadi for your encouragement and help. I hope I've done this beautiful scene justice.
1. Can you guess who painted the above piece? Let me give you a few clues: he’s a legendary musician, poet, and songwriter who loves to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns, he makes a mean meatball, and he just happened to win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.
And yes, my man Bob Dylan is also an accomplished visual artist. His second graphic release from The Beaten Path collection is now available worldwide. There are 15 hand-signed limited edition prints (some are already sold out), depicting the main routes and back roads of America.
Choice of subject is just as interesting as his unique perspective. Of course my faves are the eateries — this time there’s a hamburger stand and a diner.
2. Once again, author/illustrator extraordinaire Julie Paschkis has created a cool wall calendar to benefit the ACLU. The 2018 Hope Calendar celebrates the values of the United States:
By working together we can carry those values into the future, riding on a hopeful horse.
Calendars are 12″ x 18″ and are $12 each, with 100% of the proceeds donated. Get yours at Julie Paprika!
3.Heads up Maira Kalman fans! Four of her older picture books, OOP and originally published by Viking, are being re-issued by New York Review Books!
If you’re not familiar with the New York Review Books Children’s Collection, it consists of 80+ titles ranging from picture books to young adult novels, books they want to reintroduce to the public either because they’ve gone out of print or fallen out of mainstream attention.
I have a couple of NYRB titles and they do a beautiful job with reproduction and binding (wouldn’t mind owning their entire collection). Although I already own these four Maira PBs, I plan to purchase the NYRB editions ( as any avid Maira fan would do). Two titles are already out, Hey Willy, See the Pyramids, and Max Makes a Million.
Ooh-la-la (Max in Love) comes out January 23, 2018, and Max in Hollywood, Babyreleases on February 13, 2018.
Speaking of Maira, LOOK!!
*squeals with glee*
Maira AND Cake!! Can I stand it?? I think not. Will have to wait until April 2018 for this one, though. Maira has often written about cake in her books and NYTimes essays.
This time, she’s teamed up with Barbara Scott-Goodman to celebrate their mutual love of cakes with pics and recipes. Can’t wait!
With stories ranging from illustrated fairytales to well-loved nonsense rhymes and books of butterflies, birds and flowers, plus blank books for you to complete yourself, you’ll have everything you need to make a little library of beautifully illustrated books. The books are simple to make – just cut, fold and glue. The kit comes with a miniature bookshelf to press out and make, and easy-to-follow, fully illustrated instructions. Plus the box transforms into a beautiful library scene!
I first heard of this kit at Playing by the Book. Check out Zoe’s wonderful post to see how she and her family made the little books and even transformed some of them into earrings and tree ornaments. What a cool gift for all ages!
5. Speaking of gifts, here’s a lovely gift idea for a special someone. Check out Flora Panichelli’s Sweet Bestiary for an adorable selection of brooches, figurines, art dolls and puppets. She is partial to bunnies and foxes, some living in tiny teacups!
All pieces are made from air dry clay and are entirely handmade and handpainted. It’s best to follow her on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with new pieces. Things get snatched up quickly once she lists them in her Etsy Shop.
In this, her fourteenth book, Frances H. Kakugawa assembles a collection of poetry spanning sixty years—previously published works and new poems, grappling with answers to life’s existential questions, the need to understand our relationship with nature and the world beyond the self.
Author Frances H. Kakugawa is an award-winning, internationally published author of fourteen books, and a regular column, “Dear Frances,” for caregivers in the Hawai‘i Herald. She conducts poetry readings, workshops and lectures throughout the country. In her sessions for adults, Kakugawa shares with honesty and openness the lessons learned from caregiving. Programs for hospital and elder-healthcare professionals focus on humanizing their clinical skills. In her children’s workshops, Frances introduces students to poetry as a way to explore and embrace their elders and other aspects of their lives.
You may remember when Frances dropped by for a chat about her Wordsworth the Poet picture book series, or when I featured her poem “Emily Dickinson, I Am Somebody,”based on her personal experience as caregiver to her mother, who was an Alzheimer’s patient. It’s a poignant poem with a moving backstory, well worth reading if you’re interested in poetry’s power to heal. Now in her 80’s, Frances published her first book of poetry when she was in her 30’s. I’m looking forward to reading more of her poems in the new book.
We are the dangerous women…
Who never say no to sunsets, sunrises,
Evening strolls or double martinis.
We are the women who speak to you
In supermarkets over apples and cabbages,
Making you wish you could follow us home.
We are so damn demanding
You wish we had never met,
Yet you know, we are the only poetry you have.
We are the women you should avoid
If you don’t believe in Peter Pan,
And the first star of the evening skies.
But pour us wine as the sun sets low,
And we will hand you the key
To things you don’t know.
Young Truman Capote thought life in New York City was going to be perfect, but things didn’t work out as planned. In fact, Tru is downright miserable. So he decides to run away to Monroeville, Alabama, and the only friend he’s ever had, Nelle Harper Lee. But things don’t go well there, either. Bad things seem to happen wherever he goes. The only explanation: he must be cursed.
Christmas is coming, and Tru’s only wish is to be happy. But it’ll take a miracle for that to come true. Luckily, a special feast brings the miracle he’s hoping for. Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale is based on the real life friendship of Truman Capote and Harper Lee.
I’m a big Truman Capote fan and love anything written about him. Since I enjoyed Neri’s first middle grade novel about Truman’s childhood friendship with Nelle Harper Lee, I’m really looking forward to reading this one!
9. Finally, a Paddington Bear fix: Paddington 2, the sequel to the award-winning 2014 live action/animated film Paddington, was just released in the UK November 10, and will be released here in the U.S. in early 2018.
In Paddington 2, Paddington tries to earn money to buy an antique pop-up book for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. Check out this pop-up featurette:
*thunderous applause from Mr Cornelius and 70-something resident Paddingtons*
Needless to say, we can’t wait! (How many marmalade sandwiches should we eat until then?)
Last night, I finished reading Cat About Town, which is the first book in author Cate Conte's "Cat Cafe" mystery series.
Maddie James has returned home to Massachusetts. She's left her life and her business behind in San Francisco to spend some time with her grandfather after her grandmother's death. Maddie hadn't planned to stay long, but when she learns that a local businessman wants to buy her grandpa's house and isn't taking no for an answer, Maddie decides to stay to help. She meets with the man and warns him to stay away from her grandfather.
In the meantime, a stray orange cat has adopted Maddie, and when she takes him downtown that evening, the cat finds the dead body of the bullying businessman. Now Maddie finds herself, as well as her grandfather, in the sights of the local police, including her ex-boyfriend, Craig. Determined to prove her grandfather is not a killer, Maddie begins asking questions around town, during which she learns some interesting facts about the victim. She also meets Lucas, a dog groomer/musician, whom she develops an interest in. That makes it awkward when Craig asks her out on a date, too.
Maddie finds herself juggling two interested men, a murder investigation, and a new cat, which is about the time another murder takes place in the neighboring town.
The story was interesting, but parts of it disappointed me. For one thing, the title of the series would indicate it's set around a cat cafe, but that aspect doesn't even come into play until quite late. For another, no real motive was given for the second murder. It was just an "oh, by the way..." solution. Also, Maddie was getting frustrated with her grandfather, because he kept leaving without letting her know where he would be, and when she asked, he admitted he'd taken a part-time job, but he wouldn't tell her anything more about it. Turns out, the job wasn't something that I could see any reason for him to act all dodgy about. Finally, there was evidence that someone had tampered with the well at Maddie's grandfather's house, but there was no resolution there as to who or how or why. Bewildering. I did enjoy the story, but I'm noticing that, more and more, our intrepid female amateur sleuths have two love interests to choose from, rather than just one. I'm not sure I like that trope. It comes across as confusing and awkward. One love interest at a time, please!
Favorite lines: ♦ Cats were my weakness. ♦ "Those who love cats have a special place in heaven..." I hope so!
Waffling over a score here. I'd like to give it a 3 1/2, but for now, I'm going to give it a 3: