I am a “transplanted” Nebraskan, originally from Indiana. I came to teach elementary reading methods and children’s literature at the University of Nebraska, married a wonderful prairie man, and have lived here 40 years. I live with my husband and a lovable old dog in a log house on an acreage outside of Lincoln.
My writing history is largely professional—chapters in books, journal articles, teachers’ guides, materials to supplement curriculum, and reviews of children’s books. The desire to write for children was always present, but I never purposefully acted on it until recent years. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that poetry is what I really want to write.
Words, phrases, whole sentences percolate in my head before I start writing. When I am writing poetry, I prefer to put pen to paper. There is just something about the words going from my head to my hand that works for me. When I’m writing a picture book, I might begin at the computer, but I still have part of the story already worked out in my head before I start.
Research is always an important part of my writing. I use books and the internet as my sources. I take a lot of notes, so that I have a fairly good grasp of my topic—even when I am writing fiction and poetry. If I have the slightest doubt that something I’ve written, no matter how brief, might be inaccurate, the teacher in me insists that I “look it up.” (This habit has saved me some embarrassment!) I revise extensively. In poetry writing, every word needs to be just the right word. An economy of words is essential in picture books as well because of the challenge to leave room for the illustrator to tell part of the story.
Because my life is connected with children’s literature, I continue to read hundreds of children’s books. (I read a lot of books written for adults too.) I keep two reading journals: one for quotes that I would like to remember from books I read; the other, for “beautiful writing,” sentences or parts of sentences that make me pause when I’m reading because they are beautifully crafted or because the words create vivid images. I read through this second journal often for inspiration and ideas. I keep a list of book ideas, which I add to frequently. I also keep a folder in which I toss the scraps of paper where I’ve jotted down pieces of poems.
I love art. I draw and paint (though not proficiently enough to illustrate my own stories). For me, the creative processes of art and writing are interconnected. Van Gogh said, “One can speak poetry just by arranging colors.” Indeed.
My best advice for writers is to read, read, READ! Take walks. Pay attention. Give yourself time to think. Ideas are literally everywhere!
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