Many books have been written on the habits, personalities and actions of creative geniuses. It’s a fascinating subject. How did Michelangelo, Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, and Maya Angelou become the thinkers and creators they were? Many seek an answer to this question because we see how these geniuses brought beauty, innovation, progress and new perspective to the world. We hope that by learning the “secret of their success,” we might find a key to unlock additional potential in ourselves.
Parents and educators often think about the question with regard to their children, too. How can we support creative development? How can we make room for creativity in a world that is so distracting and focused on immediate and measurable achievement?
As humans, we’re wired to look for shortcuts. Our brains want to simplify and find patterns. Pattern-seekers are bound to be frustrated after reading any book on creative thinkers. Creative people break the mold. There is no step-by-step recipe for becoming more creative, at least not one that is one-size-fits-all.
Parents and educators are left with many questions:
Is a high level of output enough?
How do we help creative youth build skills and track their growth?
What happens when my child gets stuck or discouraged?
And these questions are only the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve been pursuing answers to these questions for many years, both for myself as an artist, and also for my students. I felt sure that I was missing something obvious. Surely, creative development needn’t rely solely on chance or wishful thinking. Also, our assessment tools felt wrong. Was a finished piece of writing or a final performance evidence of a person’s gifts? A final product certainly wasn’t a clear indicator of growth, and often it didn’t provide much guidance on a best next step.
I found answers in an unexpected corner. As a writer, theatre director, and playwright, I’m a student of story. It turns out that story is the exact tool needed to track creative development. Stories have a loose pattern with a lot of room to experiment and explore. Once I started thinking about creative development as a choose-your-own-adventure story, I finally had a lens through which to set goals, choose next steps, and track growth.
We call this story Writerly Play.
In this story, each creator is a unique character. When he or she is crafting a piece of writing, that process takes place in a series of mental spaces—the Writerly Play rooms. Each room embodies a kind of thinking, and helps us organize the process of thinking creatively.
The Attic is where we think reflectively—collecting ideas, asking questions, and discovering personal connections.
The Studio is where we think expansively—brainstorming, improvising and experimenting.
The Workshop is where we think critically—developing ideas, revising, and practicing skills.
The Library is where we study—analyzing master works, identifying strengths, and applying them to our work.
The Cafe is where we collaborate—giving and receiving feedback.
By separating these modes of thought, we can isolate strengths and weaknesses, avoid the mental struggle of trying to do opposite things at once, and easily determine what kind of strategy or tool will best serve our current needs.
How does creativity develop?
First, we explore our own creativity style so we can play to our strengths.
Then, we isolate key thinking skills, practicing them and tracking our growth.
Finally, we collect strategies to challenge ourselves and strengthen any areas of weakness.
We’ve put together a free mini-course, A Week of Creativity, to give parents and educators practical Writerly Play tools to support creative development. Will you join us? The link to sign up is below.
A young hero, a violin, and a quilt. How might these objects interact or connect? Create a story with a beginning, middle, and end that incorporates all three things.
Submit your responses by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and you might be published on our website! Send us up to 500 words of your story.
ECHO was awarded a 2016 Newbery Honor. Congrats, Pam!
An Interview with author Pam Muñoz Ryan
Did you write when you were young?
Not exactly. As a schoolgirl, I never kept a journal, made a book in class, or had an author visit my school. I never knew that an author was something I could be someday.
It never occurred to me to write a story on paper, but I pretended many, right in my own backyard. I was a benevolent queen, an explorer, or a doctor saving people from precarious deaths. I didn’t know it at the time, but all that dramatic play was a great foundation for writing.
I was also an obsessive reader. The summer before fifth grade, my family moved across town. I was the new kid in a school where most students had been together since kindergarten. I didn’t fit in. I spent much of my free time riding my bike to the East Bakersfield Library to borrow books. It was through books that I escaped and coped with the changes in my life.
There’s no easy way to describe how ideas show up. Do you have a process for seeking out ideas, or do they simply arrive?
You’re right. There is no easy answer to that question. When people ask how a writer gets ideas, what they’re really asking is, “How does your brain work?”
Ideas come in many forms. Sometimes one book leads to another. Sometimes a historical character chooses me, instead of the other way around. Sometimes I read something that triggers more research which leads me down a path. Sometimes a publisher solicits a type of book. For instance when my editor asked me if I’d ever considered writing a horse story, which led to PAINT THE WIND. Sometimes a personal experience or family story will lead to a book. Sometimes a number of ideas converge, becoming a confluence of rivers, and ultimately a story. No easy answer . . .
How did you develop the idea for Echo?
While I was researching what I thought would be my next novel about a little known discrimination case in California in 1931, I came across a photo of a classroom of students sitting on the steps of a school, each holding a harmonica.
When I asked about the picture, the docent, who had attended that very school said, “That was our elementary school harmonica band. Almost every school had one in the 20s and 30s during the big harmonica band movement.”
There was a harmonica band movement?
My curiosity leaped. I went home and began to research. Not only was there a harmonica band movement in the United States, but also Alfred Hoxie’s then-famous Philadelphia Harmonica Band of Wizards, the 60 member band of boys who played in Charles Lindbergh’s parade, and for three presidents. And the band used, primarily, one harmonica—the same model of harmonica in the picture of the children on the steps of the country school—the Hohner Marine Band.
At Society of Young Inklings, we talk about how important it is to follow your curiosity. Your questions clearly led to intriguing details. From there, how did the characters emerge?
I began to wonder about the children in that country school, and in Hoxie’s band. Two fictional characters and their stories began to take shape. Mike, an orphan boy in Philadelphia who wanted to be in Hoxie’s band, which by the way, WAS full of orphans. And Ivy Maria, a girl in a country school harmonica band. I began to wonder, too, if by some odd fate, my characters, at different points in time, had played the same harmonica? And if it that was true, could someone have owned it before them?
I found the answer when I traveled to the Hohner Harmonica company in Trossingen, Germany, to tour the campus and museum of the largest and one of the oldest harmonica factories in the world. There, I learned about the young apprentices who worked in the factory before WWII. Another character’s story, Friedrich’s, began to unfold.
How did you decide to frame the story with a fairy tale and magic?
Since my characters would live through some of the most challenging times in history—Hitler’s Germany, the Great Depression, and segregation—I began to wonder how music might contribute in some way to their ability to carry on through fear and darkness. I began to imagine the harmonica’s back story, and the magic it might carry. That is how Friedrich’s and Mike’s and Ivy’s stories became framed in an original fairy tale and entwined in a witch’s curse and a midwife’s prophecy.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I write in my office, which is also an extra bedroom in my house. When I look out my window, I see our two apricot trees and our garden, and a small bit of the Pacific Ocean.
What motivates you to keep writing?
That’s simple. I want the reader to turn the page.
A special thanks to Pam Muñoz Ryan!
Pam Muñoz Ryan is an American author. She is half Mexican with Basque, Italian, and Oklahoman cultural influences. She has written over forty books for young people—picture books, early readers, and middle grade and young adult novels. She the author recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the Ludington Award for body of work. Her novel, Esperanza Rising, was commissioned as a play by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and has been performed in many venues around the U.S. including The Goodman in Chicago, and the Majestic Cutler Theater, in Boston. You can visit her website at www.pammunozryan.com.
Click here to buy and learn more about Echo and hear a special reading from the book.
In the early days of Society of Young Inklings, our supporters gathered to discuss a mission statement. As the conversation progressed, we found ourselves in a tug-of-war: play, imagination, and creativity vs. real life.
One group argued that we ought to show how a fun, play-centered approach would prepare kids for real-life thinking and writing tasks. The other group argued that developing the ability to play, imagine and think creatively was an essential end unto itself. As I listened to compelling arguments on both sides, I felt myself slipping and sliding on the line between real life and imagination.
Where is the line between real and imaginary?
Now, lest you worry that I’ve lost my grip on reality, let me provide an example. A number of years ago, I volunteered for an organization called Each One Reach One. Actors and writers were sent to a juvenile detention center to facilitate a writing process. Inmates wrote in metaphor from the perspective of an object, an animal, and a force of nature, creating two-character scenes. We can all agree that there is no such thing as a talking tornado. However, when that tornado poured out its rage and need for revenge and destroyed an entire city in desperation, well, everyone knew we weren’t talking about a tornado at all. How do we get at the feelings inside us that matter most? Often, the only safe way to access them is through our imaginations.
I can provide examples until I’m blue in the face of how creative thinking skills are essential for the workers of today and tomorrow. And while I do care about the future success of our Inklings, those success-centered reasons aren’t the ones that I continue to devote myself to SYI year after year.
Why does creativity matter?
I’m committed to helping youth develop and express their creativity because I believe that the ability to use one’s voice, to tackle complex problems, and to transform pain and joy into words and images, is the definition of health and growth. We aren’t imagining instead of dealing with real life. We’re imagining in order to transform real life into what it has the potential to be.
What is creative voice?
The Writerly Play Attic, one of the Writerly Play rooms, gives us space where we talk about and strengthen the intersection between what we create and our own experiences and perspectives. As storytellers, we label this intersection voice. Voice is what differentiates one person’s creation from another. We might both tell a story about loyalty, but our stories will vary because no two voices are alike.
One reason the tug-of-war between real and imaginary exists is that too often, we use imagined worlds as a means of escape. The ability to use our voice is a complex skill, arguably the most complex of all the creative skills. In order to even begin, we must build a strong foundation of courage. We have to be willing to tap into our hearts and bring them to the page, whether we’re writing about dragons, or our own neighborhoods, or anything in between.
What skills help us develop our voice?
– Paying attention to the world around us
– Building strategic habits to clear mental clutter
– Learning to sort, choose and organize ideas
– Asking strong questions
– Following our curiosity
– Reflecting on what we think and feel
How does creativity lead to health and growth?
Had we told our young charges at the juvenile detention center that we planned to tackle the skills on the list above, it’s likely we would have encountered resistance. But, when we started by playing a theatre game, we dove right in. That’s the magic of the creative process. We wade into it, and at some point, the above skills are necessary to move forward. Already committed, we wade deeper. Soon, we find ourselves in a very real place, usually entirely more at the heart of things than if we had insisted on sticking to real-life writing.
We are always looking for youth who need opportunities such as this, to stretch their wings and explore their potential. Do you know a young person who is ready for the next challenge? You can learn about our mentorship here. Scholarship information can be found here.
No matter how you engage with SYI and the creative process in general, we invite you to rethink your understanding of the line between real and imaginary. We encourage you to make room for unconventional exploration and growth and to remember—just because something looks fun doesn’t mean it’s trivial. Sometimes play is the very thing that is needed.
Sign up below for our mini-course, A Week of Creativity to learn more about how we develop creativity here at Society of Young Inklings.
It might happen after my first draft. Or, it might happen after several revisions. Inevitably, I reach a point where I get stuck. Banging-my-head-against-a-wall, pulling-my-hair-out stuck.
My manuscripts are never great in their first drafts. Sometimes not their first 20 drafts. Sometimes I know what the issues are. Sometimes I have no idea. In either case, I don’t always know what to do about it. How do I increase the tension? What is the perfect word? How can I show the character’s emotions better? Why doesn’t the plot flow?
Beats me. Hence the head-to-wall banging and violent hair removal.
When I get stuck I feel a deep frustration, like I’ve swallowed an angry cloud and it is storming from the inside out. I stew. I whine. I spread grumpiness like a disease. I lay despondently on the couch. I am generally unpleasant to be around.
However, I’ve learned that getting stuck is inevitable, but it is not catastrophic.
Stuck is my creative oven.
I put a goopy pan of ingredients into the oven and they reconnect differently in the heat: they become something delicious. When I push through stuck, my ideas connect in new ways and inspiration follows. My best work usually happens after stuck.
These are four strategies that help me push from stuck to inspiration:
Find Someone Willing to Tell You, “This Stinks.”
Find a friend, a critique partner, a mentor that will be honest with you about your work. It should be someone whose opinion you trust, who understands you, your writing and your vision. It must be someone who believes in you. It is this confidence that gives people license to tell you when your work stinks – they believe you are capable of making it, well…not stink. It is also this confidence that makes their feedback palatable; it is supportive and aspirational.
I am fortunate to be a part of a critique group that I trust and respect. We met in an introductory writing class for picture book writers and have been working together ever since. We are honest with each other. When something isn’t working, we point it out and offer suggestions. We know that this honest feedback is the only way we can improve our writing.
Often, hearing some form of “this stinks” or “this could be better” is the beginning of stuck. Cue angry storm clouds and kicking, screaming tantrums.
When this happens, embrace it and push through. Stuck is one way to get to inspiration.
Sometimes it is necessary to take your work and stick it in the darkest, dustiest closet you have. Put it somewhere there is absolutely no way you will stumble across it by accident. Somewhere too challenging to pull it out, especially when you feel tempted to peek. Your brain and your creative juices need a break.
I know I’ve reached this stage when my brain turns off. I stare at my computer screen and there is no sign of life inside my head. I write and rewrite the same sentence and end up with nothing. My head is stuffed with heavy cotton balls.
You may need to step away for a few hours, a weekend, a few weeks, or even a month. In the meantime, start something new. I often hop between stories – stepping away from one while re-engaging in another. This time away from your work rests your creative muscles, giving them strength to break through barriers that once seemed insurmountable.
Sometimes a little rest is all it takes to break through stuck.
Give Your Brain Some Space
In this age of cellphones and social media, distraction is constantly at our fingertips. We wait in line and pull out our cell phones, drive our cars and turn on podcasts, shower and play loud music.
But, waiting in line, driving in the car, and standing in the shower are all opportunities for inspiration if you make space. Let your brain be quiet and don’t mistake quiet for boredom.
When I resist the urge to pull out my cell phone, these small moments of quiet become idea hotbeds. When I don’t fill my brain with distraction, my brain gets creative.
I have learned to plant seeds related to upcoming or current work. I will re-read a manuscript draft just to get the ideas into my brain. Then, when I’m not consciously thinking about my story, plot or characters, the ideas germinate. Giving my brain space allows these ideas to grow.
So, turn off those cell phones. See what happens during random moments of stillness scattered throughout each day. You will be surprised how quickly you can get unstuck.
Grind It Out
Inspiration is 10 percent lightning bolts to the brain and 90 percent hard work. Sometimes, you just have to grind your way through stuck. Sometimes you have to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite your sentences until they work. There is no glory in this part of the process.
You will know you need to keep grinding when the ideas are still leaking out one drop at a time. You will know when it’s time to step away when the ideas completely stop. Learn the difference. If you step away when it’s time to grind it out, you are procrastinating.
This is the hardest part of getting unstuck: the sheer mind-bending willpower it takes to keep working until something budges and ideas flow again. Resist the urge to throw your work in the trash and start again – there was inspiration there when you started, and inspiration will come again.
Stuck means you are on the verge of a breakthrough.
Joanna Ho Bradshaw is a Patron of Society of Young Inklings. She taught English for five years before becoming the Dean of Students at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. As the Dean, she focused her work on educational equity. She transformed the school’s punitive discipline system into one of restorative justice, and worked to increase dialogue about race and inequity in the school’s charter management system. In 2014, she received San Mateo County’s Honored Teacher award for her commitment to social justice in education. Following her Dean role, she became the Director of Education for The Reset Foundation, an organization creating alternatives to prison for young men in the system. She designed Reset’s holistic, interdisciplinary program and ran the program pilot. Currently, Joanna works at Nearpod, an interactive educational technology company, where she designs student content and teacher professional development projects.
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Mitali Perkins.
You see your neighborhood every day. It’s easy to stop noticing the warm yeast of fresh baking bread, or powdery steam from dryer vents. We forget to see the carpet of purple flowers beneath the oak tree, or to hear the hiss of wind through the palm tree branches.
Take a walk outside, and pay attention with all five of your senses. Write a 300-500 word description that spotlights your community: the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and sensations.
Submit your responses by emailing email@example.com and you might be published on our website! We’d love to give our Inklings community glimpses into the many neighborhoods that we, collectively, call home.
An Interview with author Mitali Perkins
How long have you been writing? When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
I’ve been writing since I can remember, scribbling poems and prayers in notebooks and on scraps of paper. I realized I wanted to be an author after my second novel, Monsoon Summer, was rejected 22 times. When it finally was published – 11 years after my first book (The Sunita Experiment) – I decided to put a shingle out and get busy as “Mitali Perkins, Author.” I’d sweated and worked hard enough to achieve publication and now it was time to honor my vocation.
Once you decided to write Bamboo People, how did you start the process?
We were living in Thailand and visiting refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. I listened to many stories about young people involved in the war. I wrote a picture book set there first, but editors wanted me to lengthen it, so I wrote Tu-Reh’s half first. As I read what I wrote, it felt like an incomplete, one-sided view of the conflict, so I decided to write Chiko’s story. I interspersed their chapters and then separated them into two stories, wrote them both in real time and then moved Tu-Reh’s part forward in time, wrote it in present tense and then in past, in third person and then in first – it was rejected, and rejected, and rejected until finally Charlesbridge published it.
You write about characters with a wide range of life experiences. How did you get to know Chiko and Tu Reh? Was it difficult to step into the shoes of characters from opposites sides of a conflict?
Chiko’s struggle with courage is mine, so he was easier to write. I’m a scaredy-cat and a nerd. Tu Reh’s bitterness and anger is more the story of my grandfather, who lost his ancestral land and had to flee his village. He never forgave and died a bitter man. I tried to imagine what it might have been like if he had met one of his “enemies” as a young man and had the chance to befriend him.
How much of your description comes from your travel experiences, and how much comes from research? Do you have any tips for us about detailing a setting?
We lived in Northern Thailand for three years, but I also did a lot of research. For me, it’s very difficult to write a novel unless I have lived in a place with all five senses engaged. That would be my primary tip – to learn how to dwell deeply in a particular place, smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching.
What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is that I’m my own boss. I work when and how I want to, and that’s a good thing. My least favorite thing is that I’m my own boss. I have to motivate myself to write. There is nobody else to push me or give me incentive to GET IT WRITTEN. And that’s hard.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
The first draft is hardest. Finishing it will practically kill me creatively. And it is usually terrible. But once I am done, I have confidence in my ability to revise, probably stemming from all of the rejections I’ve received in the past.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
You are going to get to do what you love to do for your life’s vocation; blessed are you, dear one.
And one last question for you: we send out our Ink Splat to our full community, which ranges from 1st grade writers up through high school. Can you guide us about which of your books are appropriate for which age groups?
My books Tiger Boy and Rickshaw Girl are also set in faraway places, and are easier for younger readers. Rickshaw Girl is going to be released as a film in 2018, so that might be a fun novel to share with your 1st-4th grade reader. Bamboo People is recommended for fifth-grade and higher.
A special thanks to Mitali Perkins!
Mitali Perkins (mitaliperkins.com) has written ten novels for young readers, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years), Bamboo People (an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults), and Tiger Boy, which won the NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Award and the South Asia Book Award. Her newest is a young adult novel called You Bring the Distant Near, releasing 9/12/17. She has been honored as a “Most Engaging Author” by independent booksellers and selected as a “Literary Light for Children” by the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Mitali was born in Kolkata, India before immigrating to the United States with her family. She has lived in Bangladesh, India, England, Thailand, Mexico, Cameroon, and Ghana, studied at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Find your local independent book store to purchase Bamboo People, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.
Let’s say you have a dog. Your dog races around the yard, sniffing fences, grass, trees, and other things we’d rather she didn’t sniff. She barks at bees, at oranges, at a loud truck that rumbles past.
Patron Post: Kristi Wright
She bounds back to you and stares at you with soulful eyes. She yips at you. And yips again. You decide that she wants to play. You throw the ball and she retrieves it till your arm is sure to fall off and she’s panting like crazy. Finally, she gulps down a bowlful of water before collapsing with her paws crossed and her tongue lolling. She watches you. You’re sure that she thinks you’re the best person in the world. You know she’s the best dog in the universe.
It’s wonderful to have such a strong connection with a pet, to imagine—to know—that your pet loves you best. But you might wonder: Why does she bark at bees? Why does she bark at oranges? What are all the things she discovers when she goes through her sniffing routine? Does she have favorite scents? She’s never going to speak to you in your own language. She’s never going to reveal her thoughts. There are so many things you may never know about your dog, but that’s okay because you’re committed to your dog. She’s yours and you love her.
But what if you’re reading a book and you’re constantly asking yourself questions about the main character that never get answered? What if you have no idea why the character does what he does? What if the character refuses to tell you anything about himself?
If your character just does things, like a dog might do things, without revealing anything about himself via dialogue or interior thoughts, your readers might not care about that character enough to stick with him and his story. It’s up to you as a writer to get your readers to commit to your characters.
When you achieve balance between action, dialogue, and a character’s thoughts, you give your readers the opportunity to build relationships with your main characters. These relationships can deepen into life-long connections.
The right balance depends on the character. Some characters are chatty. They share their joys, their fears, their anger with anyone who will listen. These characters have no choice but to reveal who they are and how they’re reacting to the world around them through tons of dialogue. They will still have thoughts that they don’t say out loud—everyone does—but the balance will lean toward dialogue. Others refuse to share their thoughts with anyone. They’ll only speak when they absolutely must, and rarely about themselves. But they still have plenty of feelings about and reactions to the world around them. No matter how talkative or silent your characters are, your readers want to know both what their feelings and reactions are and why they are having those exact feelings and reactions. In fact, your readers don’t just want to know; they need to know!
Patron Post: Kristi Wright
Of course, your story also must have plenty of action. Reading about people just standing around talking and thinking is boring.
Your character wants something and will do anything to get it. You throw obstacles from every direction at her. Each obstacle is worse than the last. All that action makes your story hard to put down, but it’s only through thoughts and dialogue that you reveal your character to your readers and give them the opportunity to connect with her and, ideally, commit to her for a lifetime.
Write your fun, action-packed stories with abandon. Then balance the action with dialogue and thoughts that allow your reader to understand your characters, to relate to them, and ultimately, become friends with them . . . for life!
I used to think that the raw materials for writing were paper and a pencil—or a new Word document, as the case may be. A blank page is what a writer uses to craft her story, much like a sculptor uses a lump of clay to make a statue.
Patron Post: Lumpy First Drafts by Rebecca Behrens
And so I envisioned my own writing process as being like making a sculpture: I’d start with a fresh, shapeless document and by the end of a first draft, I’d have molded it into the story I’d been trying to tell all along.
Let’s pretend this story is a statue of a person. At the end of that first draft, maybe the arms would need adjustment; maybe I’d need to do a lot of detail work on the face’s expression. But you’d be able to see clearly that I’d made a human form, of about the right height and with all parts more or less intact.
Except that’s not at all how my first drafts turn out. Despite the months of thought and work, sometimes they don’t resemble . . . anything. At least not clearly. Is it a person? A shrub? A sea monkey? My “finished” first drafts are shapeless and messy and rough, and even if I step back and squint, I can’t always tell what they’re supposed to be.
Honestly, those lumpy first drafts started to make me feel bad. What part of my process wasn’t working; why couldn’t I shape my clay? Until I realized that I had it all wrong: The first draft isn’t supposed to be fully formed. It’s not a sculpture, at least not yet. The first draft IS the clay.
Realizing that my raw materials actually might be my earliest drafts was a light-bulb moment. I was doing it right by simply mixing up some words, and once I had them together, in their lumpy, messy, slippery glory, I could start the real story-sculpting.
“I can smash it and start over”
Writing became an easier process once I gave myself permission to mound and mash my ideas, once I stopped expecting them to keep a certain shape. First-drafting stopped feeling so much like hard work—and a little more like an afternoon spent playing with a jar of modeling clay. If I don’t like what I’ve made, I can smash it and start over. (Just don’t let it dry out—either Play-Doh or a draft.) Story-sculpting went back to being fun.
So take heart if, at the end of your first drafts, you’re still not sure exactly what you’ve made. If your work is rough and your fingerprints are still all over it. If you’ve crafted a tower, but it’s leaning like it’s in Pisa. The real sculpting of your story—revision—is still to come. But now you have all the first-draft clay you need you need to make it.
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is David Butler.
Change the setting of your favorite story by selecting a random page in an atlas. Write the opening paragraph from this new perspective. How does the setting influence your story line and the characters?
Submit your responses by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and you might be published on our website!
Spotlight ON…David Butler: The Kidnap Plot
An Interview with author David Butler
1. How long have you been writing? What made you decide to become an author?
I knew I wanted to be an author when I was eight years old and my dad gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings. What made me want to write novels, and specifically fantasy novels, was the ability to tell truths about human beings by redrawing the world in which human beings live and act.
I took some detours on the way, including going to law school and working for more than ten years as a lawyer. I decided it was time to take my chance, and for two years I wrote full time. I found and lost an agent, wrote books alone and with my wife Emily, published in the indie space, found an agent again, and finally got an offer to publish The Kidnap Plot.
2. The Kidnap Plot is book one of your series, The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie. Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for your book and your series?
Well, I have to be careful here, because if I tell you all of my sources of inspiration, it will give away some secrets in the book: spoilers! But I will say that I lived outside London for five years, so some of the places described in the book are real (or mostly real). For instance, there’s a platform in a train station which is real, and where I really caught a train home after work every day for two years.
3. At Society of Young Inklings, we often talk about ways to approach the creative process playfully. Do you have favorite exercises or activities that help you stay creative?
I think it’s really important to keep putting new inputs into your head. Creativity is what we call associating two or more things together that haven’t been associated before, or associating them in a new way. To be able to creative consistently, you need to consistently put new things in your head. That means new experiences, so be willing to try new foods. It means new people, so be willing to make friends wherever you go. It means new places, so look for opportunities to travel. And above all, read books.
If you find yourself stuck, I recommend this: deliberately associate things by force until your creative juices start working again. Pick up two objects, and ask yourself what is the story that involves both these objects? Pick an existing story, and open an atlas to a random page, to ask what would this story look like if I set it in this different place?
4. Do you have any tips for how to create a fast-paced plot?
I have two tips. One, conflict creates interest, so get conflict into your story as early as you can. That doesn’t have to mean a fight, but it means two people who want different things from each other and who will each try to get what they want.
Two, write in short units. Short scenes or short chapters that each end on a question or a new decision or a discovery or a cliffhanger will create the feeling of a very fast story that drags you along with it.
5. Are there authors who influenced or inspired your writing?
Yes. The stories I read over and over when I was young were written by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Leguin (The Wizard of Earthsea), Susan Cooper (the Dark Is Rising Sequence), Isaac Asimov (the Foundation Trilogy), Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Katherine Kurtz (the Deryni books), and Patricia McKillip (The Riddle-Master of Hed).
6. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
The best thing about having published books is when a stranger comes up to you and says she’s read your book and it was important to her. That makes it all worth the effort. The worst thing about having published books is reading your reviews. Even when they’re positive, I get nervous reading them. I try never to read reviews.
The best part of writing is when two things fit together in your book that you didn’t see coming so you see something new and exciting about the story you’re writing. My least favorite part is the minute right before I start writing, when I’m trying to psych myself up to put eight pages onto paper.
7. What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
I think the hard thing is arranging my schedule so that I have consistent time to write. When I am most successful, it’s because I am making myself write in airports and hotels, and on planes, and sitting at the park while my kids play. It is very easy to surrender and tell myself that I don’t have enough time.
8. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
Write a lot. If you are a young writer, your biggest advantage is time. Write lots and lots of words, and accept that many of them will not be amazing. But keep trying to write your best, because your best will become better and better as you go, until everything you write is fantastic.
A special thanks to David Butler!
Locate your local independent book store to purchase The Kidnap Plot, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.
Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2017 finalist, Julie Shi! Julie finished 5th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Billy Meets Lilly” We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!
Leave a comment below on what you thought!
Billy Meets Lilly
by Julie Shi
+++++Even though Billy was the only child, he could always find something fun to do.
+++++If it was raining, Billy built castles and dragons out of Legos in his cozy room.
+++++If it was shining, he ran outside to swing on his tire swing and build mud pies.
+++++All in all, Billy was happy with his life, and he figured he didn’t need a little sister to play with.
+++++So he thought his whole life would be ruined when his mother said eight simple yet devastating words, “Honey, you’re going to have a baby sister.”
+++++Billy stared at his mother, eyes the size of saucers and mouth the size of the moon. “What?” he finally managed to say.
+++++“A baby sister,” said his mother. “It’ll be great! You’ll be able to play with her!”
+++++“I can play with myself,” Billy grumbled.
+++++“Playing with your sister will be more fun,” said Billy’s father, who had overheard the conversation and just entered the room.
+++++“Who says?” asked Billy.
+++++“Please, honey,” said Billy’s mother. “You’ll see.”
+++++Oh, Billy did see. He sure did see. The night Billy’s mother brought the baby home, they were all cooing at her and smiling into the little basket that held her.
+++++“Billy!” called Billy’s mother. “Meet Lilly!”
+++++“Lilly?” asked Billy. “Out of all the names you could’ve chosen, you chose the name that rhymes with mine?”
+++++“Aww, Lilly, Lilly,” said Billy’s mother, making baby noises and completely ignoring Billy’s comment.
+++++“So,” Billy tried again, “Is it L-I-L-Y, or is it L-I-L-L-Y?”
+++++“The second one,” quickly answered Billy’s father, before turning back towards Lilly and smiling and rubbing her cheeks.
+++++Billy approached Lilly. He stared into the basket. There, nestled in a bunch of blankets, lay the ugliest baby Billy had ever seen. “Ughh,” he muttered.
+++++“Billy!” glared Billy’s mother.
+++++Billy sighed, trudging back up to his room. If he wasn’t being ignored, he was being glared at for making truthful remarks. If he wasn’t being glared at for making truthful remarks, he was being ignored. This “Lilly” had just popped into his life, and suddenly, his parents were forgetting about him and paying all their attention to Lilly. “Humph,” glared Billy at nothing in particular.
+++++That night, his parents could be heard making cooing noises at Lilly. They forgot to kiss Billy good-night.
+++++The next morning, Billy woke up, hoping for a change. His parents had probably thought how mean they were to him over the night, and now, they were going to apologize. So, Billy tromped down stairs, hopeful.
+++++There wasn’t a change.
+++++In fact, things were getting worse.
+++++Billy’s mother was sitting down with Lilly on her lap, petting her and making bubble noises. Billy’s father was fixing a batch of baby food and humming, “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”.
+++++Billy poured his cereal into a bowl and then asked his dad to pour some milk for him. He wasn’t tall enough to reach the jug yet.
+++++“Wait,” grunted Billy’s father, sounding like he would rather be fixing baby food for Lilly than pouring milk for Billy.
+++++Billy waited, but his father never got to him. He didn’t eat breakfast that day. Billy packed his backpack and said, “Dad? Can you drive me to school?” Maybe, on the drive to school, Billy could talk to his dad.
+++++“Take the bus,” grunted his father. Billy’s hopes were instantly crushed.
+++++Billy dejectedly walked outside to wait for the bus. He felt like he was just air now: he was there, but he wasn’t worth speaking to.
+++++Billy couldn’t concentrate at school. When he was asked to multiply nine by eight, he replied, “seven.” When he was told to add seven and twenty-five, he replied, “five hundred.” He was snickered at and laughed at, but he didn’t care. Being a laughing stock was like being a king compared to being air.
+++++When Billy arrived home, his mother, who was holding Lilly, and his father, were sitting in the living room. His mother immediately said, “Billy! Go grab the book ‘Goodnight, Moon,’ and I’ll read it to Lilly.”
+++++Billy trudged towards the bookshelf. He had just arrived from school, and immediately, he was asked to do something for Lilly. He was spoken to, but only because of Lilly.
+++++Later in the day, Billy made up his mind. He was going to go convince his parents why Lilly had to go. He arrived in the living room, and a horrifying sight met his eyes. His mom was taking a nap with Lilly. Next to Lilly, lay Hippo, Billy’s favorite stuffed animal. Lilly was leaning on Hippo as if he was hers. But he wasn’t. Hippo was Billy’s! Billy leaned down and snatched Hippo from Lilly, glaring at her. Lilly blinked open an eye, and the instant she realized that Hippo was gone, she started bawling. Billy’s mother woke up. When she saw Billy holding the stuffed animal, and Lilly crying like a maniac, she shouted, “Billy! Give that stuffed animal back at once!”
+++++“No! It’s mine!” Billy protested.
+++++Lilly’s cries grew louder.
+++++“Billy!” warned his mom.
+++++“MOM! IT’S MINE!” Billy screamed. He didn’t know why, but he was sobbing now. “MINE!”
+++++The cries grew louder. Was it even possible for a two-day old baby to bawl like that? Maybe she was an alien coming to abduct him, thought Billy.
+++++“BILLY! SHE’S YOUR LITTLE SISTER! LET HER HAVE THE STUFFED ANIMAL!” Billy’s mom was shouting now.
+++++More crying, from both Lilly and Billy.
+++++“FINE! I’LL GIVE LILLY THE STUPID STUFFED ANIMAL!” screamed Billy. He slammed the stuffed animal down and stormed away.
+++++Distantly, Billy heard his mom shout something about going to his room, but he ignored her. He stormed into their library and plopped down on a chair.
+++++Billy was infuriated. This was too much! Hippo was his. His. Not Lilly’s, his. If they wanted to treat him like that, fine. Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine! Did they expect him to just stay and be ignored, though? Nope, not a chance. He had been pushed past the line. He was going to show them that he mattered.
+++++Billy was running away.
+++++He dried his tears and peered into the living room. His mother was already back asleep. Like I’m nothing, Billy thought. Like I’m just some person without any feelings.
+++++Then he slowly breathed and counted to ten, and he thought about what he would need. Well, he first needed a bag to carry things in. He had seen in cartoons and movies that runaways usually tied a small sack at the end of a long stick. But he was running away for a long time, and he didn’t have any long sticks. He’d need a bigger sack. Then he thought of his backpack. It was perfect! Bag: check, he silently thought.
+++++Next, he needed money. He put all his ten secretly stashed dollars into his backpack, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more. I need some money from Mom’s wallet, he thought. He felt a little guilty, but after he remembered how his mother had treated him when he had gotten back from school, all the guilt vanished. He snuck eighty dollars from his mom’s purse into his backpack. Money: check.
+++++He now needed to pack some food. The problem was, he needed to keep his food fresh; otherwise, it would rot. He finally put a box of cookies, plus five candies, into a bag, which he dropped into his backpack. Anyway, Billy thought, if it isn’t enough, I can always buy some more. Food: check.
+++++Lastly, he would need shelter and clean clothes for when he slept on the streets. He decided his blanket would be enough. He also stuffed an extra pair of clothes into his backpack. Shelter and clothing: check.
+++++Now, his backpack was bulging, and it was heavy, but Billy didn’t mind. As long as it could hold what he needed, he would carry it. Then he walked towards the front door. He knew it creaked when it opened, and he silently debated whether he should quickly wrench it open, or slowly open it to a crack and then slip through. He finally decided to do a little of both. He quickly opened the door to a little crack. He couldn’t fit. He opened the door a little more. He still couldn’t fit. He creaked open the door just a bit more, and he slipped through.
+++++Billy suddenly realized what he was doing. He was saying goodbye to his parents forever. His parents, his two most favorite people on earth. That is, Billy corrected, Until now. Images flashed through his head: His mom was asking him to pour orange juice for three-year old Lilly. His dad was giving Lilly all his stuffed animals. Then he firmly thought: They think they can treat me like that? I’m their child! I’m going to prove them wrong. I’m going to run away, and see how they like it then. I’ll give them a week without me, and then they’ll start to appreciate me.
+++++Then Billy realized: he should write a note. He hurried back into the house, grabbed a pen and a post-it, and scribbled, “Running away. -Billy.” Then he taped it to the front door, slipped outside again, and breathed a deep sigh.
+++++He looked outside and groaned. It was raining. He hadn’t planned it to rain. It never rained when people in the movies were running away. He figured he could just rest under the large tree in their front yard, and then get going. He walked to the tree and sat down.
+++++The steady drip drop of the rain soon lulled Billy into a sleepy trance. Stay awake, he glared at himself. But it was too much. He was tired, tired, tired…
+++++When Billy woke up, it wasn’t raining, but the sun was setting. It was already five o’clock in the afternoon. Great, Billy thought. Gotta get going.
+++++Then he saw his parents in the library room. The library had a large window facing out into the front yard, and Billy could see into it. In the library, Billy could see his mother and father painting… Oh no, they’re not, Billy thought. Billy’s parents were painting his baby chair, which was originally blue, pink. For Lilly. It was Billy’s. And they were going to give it to Lilly. Anger rose inside Billy.
+++++Then he saw his mother calling for someone. For Lilly, probably, sneered Billy. Then he realized that Lilly couldn’t walk yet. If his mother wanted Lilly, she would be walking into the living room to get her. Billy’s mother was calling for Billy.
+++++Billy’s mother looked worried and asked Billy’s father something. Then she called for Billy again. She called again. And again. She walked out of the library room. Billy lost sight of her, but he imagined the whole scene: Billy’s mother would see the note taped on the front door. She would snatch the note, read it, fingers trembling, read it again, and run to Billy’s father. Sure enough, Billy’s mother’s fingers were trembling when she ran back into the library room, and sure enough, she showed Billy’s father the note. The two of them collapsed into chairs. Billy’s father’s fingers also shook.
+++++This was all Billy could take. He couldn’t bear seeing his parents this pale and frightened. He rushed to the front door and tried to open the door. It was locked. He rang the doorbell. Billy saw his mother running towards him. He saw how her worried face turned delighted as she saw him, opened the door, and hugged him. “Why?” she breathed into his ear.
+++++Billy did not answer but hugged his mother tighter.
+++++That night, Billy explained why he had run away, and his mother and father apologized to him. They apologized for treating him like air, for ignoring him, for not helping him, for taking his baby chair and giving it to Lilly.
+++++As they sat on the couch, Billy whispered, “Do you love me?”
+++++“Of course!” stated his father.
+++++“To the moon and back,” smiled his mother.
+++++“Do you love Lilly more than me?” he asked.
+++++“No!” Billy’s father almost shouted.
+++++“It’s like asking which eye I love better, my right, or my left,” said Billy’s mother.
+++++“I like my right eye better,” Billy commented.
+++++“Billy, you know what I mean. I love you both. You’re both my children, and I will never love one over the other,” Billy’s mother said.
+++++Billy smiled at his parents and looked at Lilly again. She didn’t seem as ugly as she had before. In fact, she looked beautiful. Billy reached for Lilly and placed her in his lap.
+++++For the rest of the night, Billy’s family sat on the couch. They ate Billy’s favorite dinner and watched his favorite basketball game. Billy’s mother asked him how school was going, and Billy’s father asked him if he wanted to play baseball during the weekend.
+++++And the four of them were happy. They were a happy family, happy with life, happy to have each other.
Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2017 finalist, Adelle Kang! Adelle finished 3rd grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Switched Jerseys” We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!
Leave a comment below on what you thought!
by Adelle Kang
+++++Adelle, a girl in the All-star National Junior Basketball team was going Los Angeles to compete against a famous team. The coaches didn’t tell the players the name of it. Adelle’s team players were on their way in an airplane. Suddenly, Adelle desperately needed to go to the restroom. She stood up to go, but she bumped into a very tall person. She saw that it was Stephen Curry, her future beloved husband! He was wearing a Blue Golden State Warrior jersey. Adelle stood there, frozen. She couldn’t believe her eyes! It was actually Stephen Curry standing right there in front of her! She said, “Hi” very quietly. Stephen warmly greeted her back. For a couple minutes, they had a conversation about their basketball games they were going to have in Los Angeles. Their jersey numbers were both the same, 30. Adelle was too startled to remember that she had to go to the restroom. She headed straight back to her seat, still as startled as before. She started yawning and she thought to herself, that it would be a good idea to have a good nap for her big game the next day. She took off her jersey and wrapped herself in a cozy warm blanket. She put away her jersey in a little cubby in the back of the airplane. The next morning, when they had landed, Stephen went to wear his jersey. He picked up Adelle’s instead, thinking it was his because they had the same number! He didn’t know until he went to the restroom to change. Suddenly he remembered that jersey belonged to the girl he had bumped into the other day. He hurried off the plane to find the little girl. His jersey was too small for him which made his belly button show. Everyone started staring him because he was famous and also because of his belly button. He remembered when Adelle said she was going to play her game in the LA main gym, so he made his way there. When he arrived, he saw that Adelle was practicing for a game. The jersey was too big for her. She tripped over the long jersey when she was running back and forth. She also had a different team jersey, too. Oh no! Curry called her over to switch their jerseys. Their games were about to start in five minutes. They needed to rush. If they didn’t hurry to their games, they would be canceled because they were both the best in their teams. They needed to win their games because they were very important ones. If they lost, they would never get to play again. Curry explained how he accidentally took her jersey. Adelle said, “It is fine, but I think we need to hurry!!!” They went to the restrooms to change.
+++++All the bathroom stalls were locked. They thought that they were going to miss their game. They were in a panic now. Adelle was really scared. They tried to open the locker room, it was closed too. What were they going to go? Their games started in two minutes. Curry and Adelle stared at each other with their eyes wide open in fear of not making it on time. After about a few seconds, Curry said, “We have no choice.” Adelle and Curry were about to change where they were because they knew their games were more important. When they were about to switch jerseys, Adelle’s coach found her and told her that she needed to go right now, so they hurried up and left. When they got into the gym, they found out that they were going to play against each other! Since they didn’t have the time to change into their original jerseys, the players in Curry’s team passed the ball to Adelle because she was still in the wrong jersey. Luckily, Adelle’s team didn’t get confused by Curry wearing Adelle’s jersey because his belly button showed up. And he was too tall to be mistaken for Adelle. Adelle blended in with Curry’s team because she was fast. She zoomed past them and she SCORED! Adelle’s team had won! She never dreamed that she would beat Curry! Adelle and Curry shook hands and they decided to change clothes now. To this day, they laugh and talk about the first day they met. They married and lived happily ever after, playing basketball together every day.