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An update on Revision Camp

hey nonny nonny
Yesterday afternoon, I finished the draft of the picture book I was talking about in yesterday's post about the revision process and how long it takes. I was completely happy about it, and celebrated with a drink at dinner and everything.

Of course, today I am wondering whether I want to leave it the way it is, in a first-person telling, or switch it to third person and assign character names. But that is the way these things go. And I will probably try it and see how I like it either way.

Plus I still have full book dummies to do for this picture book and the other one I mentioned, which is about a kitten. (Want to know how to make one? I highly recommend Tara Lazar's post on the topic.

An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.

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A report from Revision Camp

Begin at the Beginning
Hello, pretties! *waves madly at people in the internet*

I am still enjoying my revision camp, although I have to confess that (a) "enjoying" is sometimes not the right word ("frustrated by" is often more apt) and (b) things are not progressing speedily.

What picture book revision involves

What I picked out to work on this week: five picture book manuscripts in various stages of completion, plus my Shakespeare poems. You see, I binge wrote picture books for a week back in early June, forcing myself to work on a new idea each day for five days in order to get past a sort of block where I wasn't writing because I couldn't get my drafts right on the first try. Not that anyone can actually do that, except for rare occasions where something falls in your lap, but still . . . I'd been twiddling my thumbs for too long and decided to follow the Nike ad's advice and "just do it".

This week, I expected to quickly knock things out. After all, I've been working on these manuscripts off and on since they were written, and I figured it wouldn't take GOBS of work to get them all whipped into shape. (Cue the maniacal laughter of the writing/revision gods.)

What I grabbed first: a picture book that needed, like, three more couplets (yeah, it rhymes) to be a finished draft, plus it needed smoothing and polishing. Friends, it is still not finished, and I've been working on it most of the day every day since Monday. The three additional couplets are done. The polishing and smoothing up of the rest is done. I made a thumbnail dummy (not sure that's what anyone else calls it - I draw a bunch of pages on a single piece of paper and write a word for what happens on each spread.) It works, and could make for great illustrations.

But when I woke from a nap on Tuesday, I realized that one of the couplets up in the middle doesn't actually match the premise, so it has to be hauled out and replaced. I am still struggling to get it fixed.

The total word count on that picture book is around 200 words. Experienced picture book writers know how much every single word matters, and how it takes time to get them "just right", but it's nevertheless easy to think "well, how long can it actually take to fix things when the book is that short?" I'm here to tell you that I've put at least 18-20 hours of work into the poem this week, and it's still not there. And that doesn't count the time spent drafting the initial poem, plus earlier revision passes on the stuff that was written. As of now, before I start work today, I probably have close to 40 hours of time into this manuscript, and it still needs more work once I get the new stanza written and put it in place. (It will have to rest, then I have to revise it again, then it has to go to first readers, etc., ...) At any rate, I thought it might be helpful to some folks to know how long a manuscript can take. Some go faster. Some, I might add, go far more slowly.

It hasn't all been obsessive work on a single manuscript. Yesterday, in order to retain my sanity, I pulled out a different manuscript, also in rhyme. It was a complete mess on the written page, so I typed it up and tweaked it and . . . whaddya know, it's not too bad. I have to consider whether it is "done" or needs another entire stanza (which is significantly longer than a couplet), and whether the ending words stay or need to be replaced. But it's so much closer than I thought it was, so YAY!

On today's schedule: Continued work on the first picture book I mentioned to replace the troublesome stanza, plus make a dummy of some sort (actual or thumbnail) for the second one. There are three more picture book manuscripts plus a poetry collection still sitting there on the sidelines with their arms crossed, scowling at me, but they will have to stay there until I can get to them.

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Two things on a Tuesday

to do list from Dr Horrible
1. Over at Guys Lit Wire I have a post about a poetry collection entitled Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers. It's an awesome collection, and I've excerpted two poems as part of that post. You should read them, if you have time.

2. I'm on retreat this week. It's a solo sort of thing, and not a fabulous week spent with other writers. (On the one hand, I love the retreats I've done with other writers; on the other hand, right now being all by myself is what I have the energy for. But I hope to set up a retreat with friends later this year.)

I'm spending the week working on revisions. And by revisions, I include a bunch of new writing, as one does. I am working on several (something like 4-5) picture book manuscripts in various states of disarray, and on a new take on my Shakespeare poems, because I was reading some aloud at a reading last month and thought a couple of them were a bit stilted. And stilted is not a word I really want attached to my work.

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She's making a list and checking it twice

to do list from Dr Horrible
Only it's really a bunch of different lists. One of the key items is an assignment to find a replacement for the day planner I've been using for years. Each year I've bought the same one, an academic At-a-Glance calendar called "Life Links", and I've loved it. Only this year, it's nowhere to be found, not even on the manufacturer's website. (It exists, but the size I use is unable to be ordered. So I have concluded it is either out of stock or discontinued. It certainly isn't anywhere else I can find.)

There are other lists, too. Lists of things to do around the house and in the garden, lists of things to work on revision-wise (my, what a pile of stuff I have here to work on!), and a need for new books and such for something else. Turns out that I have been stricken by a new project idea that will require beaucoup de recherches> And I mean beaucoup. But hey, it will probably also result in some really fun research trips and such, so why not? Right? (Hmm. At present, I find myself less than excited about research trips. The idea is good, but the thought of actual travel is a bit overwhelming. That will doubtless change as I get my feet all the way back under me from this recent conference experience.)

What's on YOUR list?

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The 2014 NJ SCBWI Conference

An artist cannot do anything slovenly
I spent this weekend in Plainsboro, New Jersey, at the 2014 New Jersey SCBWI Conference. What a complete and total pleasure!

I was extremely happy to be part of the faculty for this year's conference, where I did two separate presentations: one on using poetic devices and techniques in your writing whether or not you write poetry, and another on working with poetic forms. I was thrilled to have an active audience for both sessions, and to meet other poets and authors. I got a lovely email from one of the people in my poetic forms workshop that said "your love for the art form came across . . . lovely". Really, that makes me terribly happy. (She liked the actual content, too.)

In addition to my presentations, I got to meet a tremendous number of authors, agents, and editors, which is always fun, even if it does make my head start to swim after a while. We writing introverts spend so much time alone, and then to find an entire tribe at once! Well, it's exhilarating and exhausting, both, isn't it? I thoroughly enjoyed every conversation I had, and missed out on conversing with some folks I'd have liked to spend more time with, but that is somehow always the way of conferences.

The folks in charge of the NJ SCBWI (Leeza Hernandez, Sheri Perl OShins, and Karen Romagna) cannot be praised highly enough for their organization and professionalism. Seriously. The pacing of the day was just right, there was plenty of assistance available if necessary, the program ran smoothly and on time. And they sure picked a terrific facility, as well - easy to navigate, lots of areas to meet up and hang out with other people, great food (non-stop, it seemed, as there were always snacks available), and extremely efficiently run by the staff there.

And, of course, I attended other sessions, from which I learned lots of things to help my own writing. I learned about narrative nonfiction from Carter Hasagawa and attended several different picture book-related sessions. I especially adored Audrey Vernick's session on picture book revisions, from which I gained a few new tools for my writer's toolbox, which I intend to put to use in a day or two, once I get caught up on things.

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How can I find words? Poets have taken t
Today's poem by former Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis is in celebration of Helen Keller Day. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation making June 27th (Helen Keller's birthday). Helen Keller was left deaf and blind following a childhood fever, and the popular play The Miracle Worker by William Gibson has made generations of American children aware of how her teacher, Annie Sullivan, helped reconnect Helen to the world.

Helen went on to attend a variety of schools, including Radcliffe College, where she became the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts. She learned to speak and to read lips by touch. Later in her life, she became a noted public speaker and author, and she was an advocate for people with disabilities. (She also became a noted socialist speaker, which landed her in some hot water with some folks.)

Alabama chose Helen Keller to be on their "state quarter" when the U.S. Mint decided to issue fifty different quarters in order of states joining the nation. It is the only coin in the United States to include Braille on it.

And now, without further ado, the wonderful villanelle by J. Patrick Lewis:

Swimming to the Light
      Helen Keller
      1880 – 1968
      Deaf and blind American author
      and political activist

by J. Patrick Lewis

Descending through the roaring silent sea
Of blackness, I don’t know what I don’t know.
I am alone, there’s no one else but me.

Which way is up? What dread adversity
Prevents me seeing either friend or foe,
Descending through the roaring silent sea?

There, swimming into my vicinity,
A hand—a teacher’s hand!—that won’t let go.
I’m not alone, Anne Sullivan’s with me!

The hand maiden of fellow feeling, she
Signs “water,” the first word in my talk show,
Ascending through the roaring silent sea.

I cannot learn enough! Her art sets free
Words painted on my hand, her studio.
I’m not alone, Anne Sullivan’s with me.

Blind-deaf, I earn a Bachelor’s degree,
And bow to her for my portfolio.
Ascending through a roaring silent sea,
I’m not alone when all the world’s with me.

Many thanks to Pat for allowing me to share his poem with you today. For other Poetry Friday entries, you can click on the box below:

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hey nonny nonny
I have remembered that today is, in fact, Wednesday, which I try to remember so as to have "Wednesdays with the Bard", although I am sorry to say I often fail.

Although it is not technically midsummer, it is hot enough outside to feel like it, so I thought to bring you a little something from A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a fairy song from Act II, scene 1 of the play. At the start of the scene, Puck enters from one side of the stage and a fairy from the other. Puck greets the fairy saying "How now, spirit? Whither wander you?"

This song is the fairy's reply:

Over hill, over dale,
   Thorough* bush, thorough* brier,
Over park, over pale,
   Thorough* flood, thorough* fire,
I do wander everywhere
Swifter than the moonè's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green:
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.

*The word "thorough" is, in today's parlance, "through". And lady moon not only had an "e" on the end (hence, "moone" as above), but it was expected that the schwa-like "e" would be pronounced. In modern productions or recitations, the word is rendered in today's language as "moon's", as you might expect.

Form and discussion: The poem is written in rhymed couplets in a form of accentual verse, with each line containing 4 accented syllables, except for the very last line of the song, which is in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare shifts deftly between two forms of poetic feet, with some lines containing four iambs (ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM) and some containing four trochees (DUM-ta DUM-ta DUM-ta DUM(-ta), with the last foot sometimes being truncated to result in a seven-syllable line, and sometimes not). He always keeps four stressed syllables per line until the very last line of the poem, which has five stressed syllables because it is in iambic pentameter, with the extra two-syllables used to slow the song or poem down into resolution.

In case you're wondering what happens next, the fairy then delivers a few lines to Puck and is off to prepare the way for the rest of the fairies to arrive.

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at the boardwalk
An abecediary about the beach, including two poems that I directly related to because of my own work: "B is for Boardwalk", which reminds me of my own picture book, and "J is for Jellyfish", which reminds me of my own poem, "Sea Jelly", although of course Richard's poems are quite different from mine!

Two of my particular favorites in the book are "H is for Horizon" and "T is for Tide". Here's the text for the letter H:

H is for Horizon
by Richard Michelson

Where does the sea stop and the sky begin?
Where does the sun rise when the dawn slips in?
Where does the ship sail when its sails disappear?
Is it under the ocean? Is it up in the air?

If I travel the world or stay here on this beach,
The horizon will always be just beyond reach.
But it's real as my dreams and it's always nearby--
That magical line where the sea meets the sky.

Magical indeed, both the horizon and the poem itself.

And here is the letter T:

A wonderful tour through the alphabet and the beach, and the art is gorgeous throughout. It would make a terrific summer read, and is easy to dip in and out of (like the ocean). Perfect for summer story times or bed times, and for families who love the beach. My thanks to the good folks at Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a review copy!

And, you know, if you want to pair it with my At the Boardwalk, well, I wouldn't mind keeping the beach theme rolling.

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What I'm up to

This week involves some planning for a future trip to Louisville, Kentucky as well as for this weekend, when I'll be on faculty at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

I am very much looking forward to the conference, where I hope to learn lots of new things and catch up with friends old and new in addition to teaching two sessions that are related to poetry.

On Saturday, I am doing Twelve Steps to Unleashing Your Inner Poet (Even if You Don't Write Poetry), which talks about how to improve your writing by incorporating poetic techniques in places. And on Sunday, my presentation is Thinking Inside the Box: Working With Poetic Forms, which will examine how to work with some actual form poetry, including ones that are especially good for poetry for children.

What are you up to? And do you have any good tips about what to do in Louisville?

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Getting closet organizers - a downsizing post

empty nest
Maybe you are thinking to yourself, "but wait! I thought you were all moved in!" You are correct, of course, but even within our new space, there's some downsizing to be done. And, of course, decluttering. It is far too easy for unnecessary, unwanted, or unloved things to pile up.

One of the great things about my new space is the ginormous walk-in closet in the master bedroom. It consists of two separate spaces: a door opens into the closet from the bedroom, and you step into a dressing-area of sorts, complete with a counter, sink, mirror and light bar. At first, I wasn't so sure I liked the counter/mirror bit, but it's proven handy when we're getting ready to go out. Then there's a doorway into the main part of the closet, which is actually pretty huge.

Only the closet wasn't well thought-out.

When my sweetheart first moved here, it had a single bar with a single shelf above it in the back closet. He eventually replaced that with a Closet Maid system across the back wall, which had a few overlaps that made it hard to actually hang double rows of things. When I first met him, his stuff filled that closet system. Plus two other bedroom closets in the house, and half of the front hall closet, and a large bar in the laundry room, and two dressers.

Part of the issue is that the master closet wasn't well-organized, and part of it is that he had far too much stuff. (He needs the usual seasonal wardrobe, plus he has two seasons of "work" wardrobe, which in his case is tai chi or other workout pants and T-shirts, both short- and long-sleeved.) Plus the closet had to hold shoes and linens and some tai chi weapons. Oh. And then we had to fit some of my stuff, too.

Today, we are investing our money and a nice guy named Doug's time and effort to install a closet system that ought to work a lot better for us, and allow us to get pretty much all the things into the closet that we need. I suppose you could say we are decluttering/downsizing by adding something to the house, and I think that's a fair way of looking at it. We are reworking the space to make it into a real working closet, with plenty of storage space for ALL THE THINGS.

In short: Sometimes to declutter/downsize, it pays to ADD stuff.

Here's a photo of the closet once it got done, although you can't see how truly large and wonderful it all is:

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