I’m looking forward to the upcoming Children’s Literature Festival in a couple of weeks. Thousands of kids and dozens of children’s authors and artists come together each year in Warrensburg, Missouri on the campus of University of Central Missouri for two days of sessions. The Festival was started by Phil Sadler and Ophelia Gilbert and is now led by Naomi Williamson. It’s hard to imagine how many young people have attended one or more times to meet the creators of some of their favorite books. 2015 marks the 46th anniversary of the annual event. I began participating 37 years ago in 1978 and I don’t think I’ve missed a year since then.
Many of my friends will be there and I’m eager to see them again. They include Carol (C.S.) Adler; Bill Anderson; Sandy Asher; Brad Sneed; Cheryl Harness; Claudia Mills; Dorinda Nicholson; Patricia Hermes, Ard Hoyt; Janie (J.B.) Cheaney; Jan Greenberg; June Rae Wood; Lois Ruby; Marie Smith; Mary Casanova; Mary Downing (Hahn) Jacob; Michael Spradlin; Roderick Townley; Roland Smith; Obert Skye; Sneed Collard; Terry Trueman; and Vivian Vande Velde plus many others. Lucky me to count such talented, dedicated, and fun people among my friends. You can see why I look forward each year to seeing them again!
One of the tools of the writing trade is observation. We learn early on that our senses provide valuable clues about potential ideas to explore. Wherever we go we tend to notice details that go unobserved by those who have not developed the habit of paying attention to their surroundings.
When kids ask what it takes to become a writer, I often suggest to them that it all begins with observing the world around them, taking notes, investigating the ideas that interest them, developing a vocabulary of information about their chosen subject, and only then are they likely to have something interesting to write about.
I admire the work of good photographers who often capture the moment framed in a way that tells its own story. That’s why so many teachers have found that asking their students to look at a picture and write about what it means to them is such a good exercise. The photographer or painter has already done the observing for them or at least focused on something that invites their interest and stimulates their imagination.
Becoming a good observer, I think, can be developed with practice. I like to watch people in a crowd. Some seem oblivious to their surroundings and spend their time in conversation, on their phones, reading a book, or swaying to the music. A few seem to be looking around. Their eyes are on the crowd, watching other people, enjoying the sounds and sights, perhaps smiling to themselves about something they’ve just observed. Whether they’re writers or not, they’re certainly employing one of the basic first steps of writing.
Try making a few entries in your journal of details you’ve noticed lately that you suspect others might overlook. The other day on my way into a restaurant I walked by a column that needed some paint. I was among several people going in and they all walked by the column without seeing the small moth resting there hidden in plain sight. Here it is.
On a walk past a wall of tangled trees and vines, the color white caught my eye deep in the thicket. I stopped to peer in and took this picture.
Will I ever write about the insect or the birds? Who knows? When a fisherman casts his net, he catches a lot of stuff he doesn’t need. But he never knows when the unexpected treasure will turn up.
Sandy and I + Larry and Maryann Wakefield + two weeks at Captiva = lots of fun and new good memories. I hope you enjoyed the pictures each day. I have more but will save them for other occasions. I gained several new followers during that period when the only thing I was posting was pictures. Hmmmmm.
I wrote not a word while we were there. If I’ve gone that long before without working on something, I don’t remember it. Mostly I read Connelly and Patterson books. I’d never read Connelly before and hadn’t read more than one or two Patterson but I got through three each and am about finished with a fourth by Patterson. Good old-fashioned escapism yarns with plenty of beautiful, brilliant women, despicable villains, and handsome heroes. And the good guys win!
Now it’s time for work. I’m eager. I need to get back to several projects, including one with Mary Jo Fresch and one with Jane Yolen. They’ve both been patient while I went off to relax. I need to play catch up!
I’m back. Thanks for my vacation. I hope you enjoyed the pictures. I didn’t want you to waste the effort of dropping by now and then while I was away. Today is the last one from Captiva.
Well here we go into the third month of this lovely year and so we need a new word to inspire us. How about PACE? It can be noun or verb and can be applied to numerous situations. I look forward to reading what comes from your imaginations.
Thanks for all the poems and chat during February. I love it when newcomers join us. Please tell others to check us out and consider adding their own writing and/or comments.
BULLETIN: Thanks to Jessica Jensen and her students for posting poems under Young Poets. If you haven’t read their poems yet, please do it today. By tomorrow they’ll be gone to make way for March poems!