Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Wretched Curse of Rhyming Verse!

The curse will give you ugly spots,
The curse will give you twitches,
The curse will make you quite confused
And give you heaving glitches.

Your words will come out backwards
And you’ll maybe lose the plot.
By then of course it’s much too late,
Diagnosis: Published? Not!

Symptom #1: Ugly spots. Imperfect rhymes are a pox on a rhyming text.

A good rhyming dictionary will help you find the best, most meaningful rhyme, and here’s an excellent online resourceThere may be no rhyme for what you want to say, so try saying it differently. Or say something different.

Symptom #2: Twitches: irregular and jerky meter makes one dizzy.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence to an editor that you have the Curse than an irregular, changing and awkward meter. Try reading your text aloud into a recording device. Have someone else read it to you. This will help you define where the problems lie.

Symptom #3: Confusion: Um, are you talking to me?

Many authors who write verse find they have an issue with changing POV (Point of View), feeling compelled to suddenly and inexplicably address the audience directly or change narrators in order to make their lines rhyme. Just as quickly the urge retreats and the author returns to the initial POV, but by then the damage has been done.

Symptom #4: Heaving Glitches: You won’t know whether you’re coming or going.

Structural changes are an enormous problem for the rhymers: for example, changing from rhyming every second line to rhyming every line. Or every third line. And often within the same stanza. Structural changes should be carried out with intent. They should be repeated. They should say something about the narrative, pace, or emotional changes occurring within the story. More on rhyme schemes here. 

Symptom #5: Speaking backward: Sayeth to me, what art thou trying to?

Rhymers also must be wary of using words and phrases with either inappropriate or obscure meanings… or back-to-front phrasing… or archaic speech patterns… simply because they rhyme.

Symptom #6: Completely losing the plot: What were you trying to say again? At this point you know that the curse is in an advanced and possibly incurable state.

Diagnosis: Spurned, returned and possibly burned.

But look at it like this. Editors are people too. They receive many texts. Many of them are in poorly-written verse. They are familiar with the Curse of Verse, well-‘versed’ in its symptoms. And they do not have the time, money, or inclination to affect a cure. And even if yours is good, the editor may simply have had too much exposure to the bug. They may have become immune to anything that even resembles Rhyming Verse.

Prevention and Cure: First, take a deep breath. Don’t be dismayed. You’re not alone. The curse is prevalent and catching, but it is absolutely curable.

You do have something worthwhile to say. You know that a story needs a beginning, middle and end. It is really difficult to write rhyming texts that are consistent in meter, rhyme, style, and that still portray what the writer wants them to portray.

And maybe there’s no reason to write your text in verse. Rhyme lends itself to texts that are humorous or light-hearted in nature or that are designed primarily to entertain. Prose might suit your story better. You may consider re-writing your text in a combination of prose and verse with a rhyming ‘refrain/chorus’ repeated with minor variations. This may free your writing style, allow you to avoid all the other symptoms and retain your character and narrative development.

The best picture books work like a poem (whether they rhyme or not).Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is a great example. Martin Waddle’s Little Bear books show a different, equally successful approach for a younger audience. These each have a certain metre, cadence and lyrical quality and even some rhyming elements through the text. Bursts of rhyme can be used with intent, as does Maurice Sendak inWhere the Wild things Are.

Pick up your pen and just begin again. Just start writing in prose, and don’t stop, you’ll be free.

 is usually speedy. You’ll feel better. And so will your audience.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writing Chapter Books

Registration is now open for my new class at RISD Continuing Ed, 'Writing Chapter Books.' 

When: Tuesday night, 7-10pm from September 13th - December 6th. 
Where: Rhode Island School of Design, Providence Campus.

My spring class 'Writing for Children's Books' is a suggested prerequisite, but both beginning and intermediate writers will find this twelve week course a full and in depth grounding in writing a solid narrative with engaging characters, understanding technical aspects of writing fiction such as Point of View, handling exposition, and developing an all important 'voice,' in books for readers between ages 6 and 12. We'll also be looking at writing great query letters and the submissions process.

For a full course description, please go here

On the weekend of November 12th-13th, I'll also be teaching a weekend workshop on picture book editing and revision, and I'll be editing your picture book manuscripts on-screen in class, plus we'll be doing various revision exercises. 

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

It’s 3:40, I’m all caught up with work, Chickling is at the Elder Birds for a couple of nights, and so it’s time to start my homework. The dishes can wait. I’m allowed to start my homework. I’m “actively allowing” myself to draw—how very cool and strangely distorted is that? But it’s something I go through every time I sit down to do this. Scourge of the worker-mother, I guess.

Oooooooh, I love homework—even when it’s torturing me*—and I love the fact that I have to do it. Especially this week. I have to pull out all the stops and produce something with high levels of awesome this week. I have to. It’s the last class, and our final projects are due on the crit wall 6:30pm Wednesday. 

*I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in the design process. My ideas for my piece are not as advanced as I’d hoped. I was a little concerned about that before class, but when I got it up there on the crit wall it was quite clear to me. I didn’t feel it, what I'd produced, and I certainly didn’t feel that others would feel it, at least not in the way I intended it. And though I accept that as part of the creative process, I felt flat...just a little bit. I was on the way to that quiet, thoughtful place that comes before starting over.    

You know that place.

...when you know it’s all there in your mind, and you’re just waiting to coax it out—in a way that it works, this time. The mug of tea is steeping, and you're adjusting the music on your iTunes. You’re on the verge of revising. It's going to be challenging, but you’re about to have a wild blast. And it feels amazing.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Musical Interlude - Moonage Daydream

In my early teens my creativity was flowing, my ideas ran wild and were offbeat, and I had little doubt about what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write and illustrate books. This is the kind of music I listened to back then, and it's what I'm listening to tonight. Great stuff. 

Wear headphones and turn it up loud. Let the creativity flow! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Scary Boots ’n’ All

I don’t mind admitting I do get a little anxious as it nears my turn for critique of my artwork in the class I’m taking at RISD this summer. I appreciate learning from every comment on technical aspects, of course, but that’s not what has me anxious. It’s people’s emotional reactions to my work that interest me most. I feel that if I can lick that, then I’ve won the major part of the battle. So far so good, but I’m about to go out on a much bigger limb as the end of the course nears.

This coming class—the penultimate class—we have been asked to present our ideas and sketches for the final project due the following week. I have chosen, without thinking or considering an alternative, to illustrate a double-page spread from a picture book text I’ve written. To progress with the illustration of this book and (perhaps even more so) to fall in love with drawing again were my goals in taking this class.

But even though I have achieved my greater goal already—I am well and truly on the way to besotted with drawing again—I am nervous about my decision to do something from my book. It would be easier, perhaps, to choose something random and unattached to a wider project, just to fulfill the assignment’s expectations and create a nice piece of art for its own sake. But my gut tells me this is the right thing for me, that this is what I want and what I truly need. But…

How do I go about it? Will I be capable? What if I fail? Do I have good ideas? Hell, do I have any ideas at all? I had some yesterday—where have they all gone? Do I have the guts and stamina required to push past the time and emotional barriers and make my project work in the way it must for me to be happy with it? Sure, it’s just a homework project, but to me it’s so much more. It’s a like taking a serious step in a new, intoxicating relationship (or is it like a hopeful rekindling of an old one gone sour?), and it’s as scary as it is elatingbecause if it fails, this one's going to sting.   

How do you push past the fear we all feel at some point on our creative journeys? Where do you place your focus so as not to succumb to it?

I, for one, am just going to listen to some music and draw and hope. And I’ve committed myself now, right here, on purpose, so I can’t back out, on my blog for all the Interwebs to see. So… here goes… I’m going to start… right… now…

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Three weeks ago, I embarked on a class at RISD, as a student this time round. A few weeks before that, I found myself co-creating a new critique group. It’s a great time for me creatively, and in part because I am sharing a greater sense of community. There is so much to learn from listening to other people talk about your work, about listening and talking to others about theirs.

If you have been my client you will have read my thoughts on the importance of a critique group. If you have taken one of my classes, you will have heard me speak often and passionately about the necessity of a writing/creating community, of a critique group, of not going this path alone.

So I now belong to two critique groups, both small—three people in each—which for me is the magic number. A critique group of three, if working well, provides the right amount of exchange without being overwhelming, and a focused and lengthy time spent on not just the nuts and bolts of each person’s work, but on discussion of process and other matters, the kinds of things a writer goes through in solitude, which must be shared if one is not only to write, but to stay mentally healthy while doing so. It can provide a gentle intimacy, and often grows into real friendship.

Both of my critique groups are wonderful. Both work and work well. And each group came into being almost effortlessly, almost spontaneously, which I think really counts for something.

One takes place in an unusual flat-roofed home, down a path past a Japanese maple, lush groundcover, large rocks. There are sculptures in the house and exotic artifacts, prints and paintings that evoke more spiritual, darker, or more thoughtful times and different cultural traditions. There are wine and sweet treats, glimpses of hummingbirds in summer, an opossum in winter. I always look forward to that environment, and it always feels both an adventure and like coming home. The other, so far, takes place in either an unexpected city tree house of sorts, or on a cricket-sung, firefly-flickering porch. It is too new yet to know where or even if it will settle, but no doubt there will always be music. Each experience in both groups is an unceasing free flow of energy, exchange from writer to writer, artist to artist. Each is warm and generous. And it’s lots of fun.

If you don’t have a critique group, I hope you’ll find one. If you start or join a critique group with the right people, and if you really give yourself to a mutual sharing of work, ideas, comfort, and understanding, it will be one of the best decisions you ever make. Not sure where to start? There are various ways, but for children’s book writers, your regional branch of SCBWI is the very best place to begin.

Now go find the fellow creative folk who fit with you, who feed your craft, fuel your ideas, and whose work and process you really care about. I could wish you no greater pleasure…except maybe a large book deal… but even then you’d need someone to share it with who’d really get what it took to get you there, and who was with you along the way, and who understood with no explanation  in the first place the need to be a writer.

Go on, find them—off you go!