a sweet, still moment from a recent visit to the Lama Foundation nearby. these mountains ground me in a way i’ve never felt prior. i am so grateful for living in such a beautiful place with endless inspiration.

So, remember that cigar box I’ve been stuffing with story fragments scribbled on note cards? I laid out all the cards this week and tried to decipher then. Some just made me laugh out loud, others confused me incredibly. And some really got me excited. I started moving them around, mixing and matching. It felt great! Like playing Dominos or putting a puzzle together. It was a new route to storytelling that was really freeing. I wrote on more cards to fill in gaps until I could sorta see a story appear. I didn’t worry about being wordy – I’m just trying to find the story right now, not polish it. I typed out a draft based on my ‘story card sketch’. I don’t know if it’s any good yet. I can’t judge it now. I just have to keep following it to see where it goes. Next, I’m going to draw a super rough dummy that will help me edit. I already know I’ll be editing a lot of words out and adding those images/ideas into the pictures.

I’ve been writing a lot this week, and one thing I noticed is that each story I write takes its own shape, in its own time and in its own way. I wrote My Travelin’ Eye (Henry Holt, 2008) on the back of an envelope (inside and out) and drew the pictures for the dummy with a fat, orange Ferby pencil with my left hand (it was the only way I could ‘relax’ and feel like little Jenny Sue). It also took having the dummy and story two-thirds of the way finished, and nervously reading it out loud to some friends, in order to really hear what was working and what wasn’t. It also helped me figure out what the ending would be.

Making a dummy is still the best help (for me) in editing and finishing a story.

With Same, Same but Different (Henry Holt, 2011), I played with different versions out loud while going for long walks with my dog in the mountains (it took a whole lotta walks over a couple months) to figure out “how” to write it and from what perspective. Then I wrote it in a colored/striped notebook and drew a dummy. It took a, “Sorry, I can’t sign this book,” from my editor, to push me even further (creatively) to make it better. She didn’t like the ending, so I came up with a better one. Then, I read it to my sister over the phone (who is a gradeschool vice principal) who helped make an even stronger ending (thanks, Renee!). I showed it to my editor the next day, and she loved it.

Once, when I was visiting with a group of 3rd graders, a student asked, “Does anyone help you with your books?” I answered, “YES! My husband, my editor, my family, my friends, my dog. And I am so grateful they do!”

You know that old saying, two heads are better than one?  Well, multiple heads are better than two.

But a lot of that help tweaking and pushing and shining up the story comes later. Later, as in after I come up with “the” story, which is where I’m at now. This part of the journey is a solo one and takes a whole lotta time, patience and humor. I’ve learned to laugh a lot at the silly ideas that come out of my head.

I’ve been working on another story off and on for a few months, too. It’s all written on a piece of paper that I’ve been carrying in my pocket. I’ve been liking the ‘idea’ but not sure of the voice. Just this morning, while nursing Tulsi, a very clear point of view came, which seems like it just might bring it together. See? Even Tulsi helps me! It’s not always about physically writing the stories. Sometimes, it’s simply being quiet in those spaces in order to hear them.

For me, the children’s book retreat I’m doing in September with some friends is the additional, time-sensitive motivation that is helping me. I’m hoping to have at least one story (but hopefully 2 or 3) far enough along to share and get feedback to help push and pull my words and ideas in ways I just don’t know how to by myself. I can’t wait!

Anyone working on stories? Do you have a routine or ritual around writing and editing? Do you have a writing group? Use a thesaurus? Write while standing on your head or hanging from a tree? Please share!