EVERYONE is creative

Last year as part of early research for my new book on creativity, I logged on to an ‘Ideas Jam’ Creativity Check-In on the website of the Canadian Network for Imagination and Creativity. And was intrigued to find the discussion being led by Stan Baines, Custodial Supervisor for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Someone who oversees the work of janitors and maintenance staff.

Creativity really is everywhere!

This, my second midgrade nonfiction book, is not a how-to. More of a who/why/where and when book. A chance to explore the nature of creativity, why it is so important to our lives and our world. How we use it to explore experience, solve problems, document our lives, and celebrate and record how the world works. And a chance to convey to kids that we are all – by nature – creative, and we don’t have to have a million hits on Youtube, our name on a book cover, or our art in a famous gallery, to prove it.

The book won’t be out until late-2024 or early 2025.  Meanwhile, I get to research and write about kindness stones, the McCarthy Era, the history of animation, The Famous People Players, the smallest/strangest art gallery in the world, Leonardo da Vinci, opposable thumbs, The Arts and Crafts Movement, grafitti,  brain science, adaptive and assistive technologies, perspective…

Photo: Creative Commons

You get the idea… So many ways to go with this – I feel as if I am on a journey of discovery myself.

To to add an element of creativity to the whole process, I am documenting the journey in my note/sketch book – a place to note ideas, leads, resources, links and contacts and a chance to work another part of my creative brain at the same time!

If you have a particular perspective on or experience with encouraging and exploring creativity with children, or know of kids who demonstrate their creativity in innovative and surprising ways, I would love to here from you.

To repeat the quote by Albert Einstein, ‘Creativity is contagious. Pass it on”.

Fall Colours Everything

Fall means different things to different people.

In my childhood it meant donning school uniform, the tie strangling my throat, the wool tunic scratching the back of my knees. But it also meant reuniting with friends, returning to familiar routines – both of which were important to me then, and still are.

These days, my friends are returning from exciting trips, or visits with families, or personal and geographic explorations.

And the routines I need to restablish are waiting for me at my desk. A midgrade nonfiction book to work on, preparation for some upcoming workshops and classes I am presenting, and some new thoughts collecting in my head – and in my notebook – to examine and explore.

Meanwhile the sun shines, the sky is clear, and drifting through the morning air is the sound of children enjoying recess at the nearby school, the beep of construction equipment as yet more apartment buildings go up in my neighbourhood, and the chatter of neighbours communing below my window.

And I have work to do…

Stephen, Judith, Lois – Back to school 1961.

Running Out of Steam

You’ve been there, I’m sure. I have been there for a while. In the doldrums. The Horse Latitudes. A period when little seems to be happening, so you just sit back and wait for the horse to come back so you can climb back on.

How’s that for mixed metaphors!

For the past six months or so I have been playing a waiting game on a proposal for a project that I was really fired up about. But over the last while have simply been blowing air on the few coals of enthusiasm that I could muster while I awaited The Word. (I know. More metaphor.)

But I am hoping to hear the final outcome of the proposal in the next week or so, and then will have a better idea of where to go from here.

Meanwhile? I have been learning to paint with watercolours. Presenting virtually to schools and libraries in three provinces during Canadian Children’s Book Week. Following the progress of SHELTER as it made its way into the world. Writing a few pieces of memoir poetry. Teaching writing, and most recently – and thanks to a group in Alison’s Acheson’s Unschool For Writers – digging back into a few picture book stories that have been languishing for a while.

But now it’s summer. Camping calls. Hanging out with my grandson. Enjoying our lovely environment here on Vancouver Island.

And on August 26 I leave for a two-week holiday in Sicily. Sun. Sea. History. And good food. That’s what I am going in search of. And as long as I don’t get hung up on delayed or cancelled flights or lost luggage, I plan to make the very best of every minute.

I hope your summer is interesting and satisfying. However you spend it. And that if your writing has been languishing in recent months, here’s hoping a spark soon alights your interest and energy and you can get back to it.

Lipari, Sicily. Photo. A
Lipari, Sicity. Ph. Italy Tourism

Interview with Bonni Goldberg

      An inspiring mentor and writing teacher, and author of a range of books, including those that support writers in their journey of self-discovery and craft development, Bonni very generously spent time answering my questions within days of the release of this invaluable book. Please take the time to read this rather long interview, not a word of which I wanted to leave out. 

Who was your earliest writing supporter or mentor? How did you ‘get started and keep going’?
I started writing in fifth grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Margaret Thaine told our class about a poetry contest for children. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was capable or even allowed to write poems. I wrote three rhyming poems. I was instantly hooked– delighted by the process and the result. Looking back, I think I was taken by the ability to express my deep emotions and ideas with a few words. Plus, those words stayed put on the paper, and I could share them and go back to them. In high school, I took my first creative writing class. I entered a city-wide high school poetry contest and received an honorable mention. My high school teacher praised my poetry, but when it came time to award my own school’s creative writing prize, he gave it to another student. I was devastated.
        The reason I’m telling you this is because it’s a fair microcosm of my entire writing life. I went on to major in creative writing in college and graduate school. Some students and teachers appreciated my work and others were indifferent or deeply disliked it. The same has been true of editors, agents, publishers, reviewers and readers.
      I was, and am now, most consistently supported as a writer by my love of doing it. And yes, there were many essential early mentors. Most of them were the poets I read: June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Nzosake Shange, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I also loved Whitman, Dante, and Emily Dickinson. Grace Paley’s short stories at once blew me away and sustained me. Over the years, there were times when I was fortunate enough to spend time with Grace in person. Those were sublime times. But to this day, they weren’t as inspiring to me as her stories, essays and poems were and continue to be. 
      These days, I’m nourished  the most by the critique groups I’m part of (three of them at the moment), an online international writing community The Creative Academy for Writers, and the Facebook group, Jewish Kidlit Mavens. 

What what obstacles do you still encounter as you develop new ideas and projects?
When I first started writing, I struggled with revising what I wrote and insecurity about my ability as a writer, due to all the rejection letters I received from the literary magazines I submitted poems to. 
        All these years later, I struggle with, and dislike, writing the first draft. I much prefer revising. I get frustrated and weary from submitting my projects, but I no longer feel insecure about my ability to write. I know I have ability. It is less than some and more than others – like every other writer. 
     So given the above, I suppose it’s fair to say that what hasn’t changed is my struggle with impatience. I still worry I might not be up to the task of certain ideas that come to me. I’m also capable of being lazy as a writer. I always have to check myself in that area

You also write picture books. What is it that appeals to you about them and what is the biggest challenge in writing and/or finding a home for them?
I love writing picture books for two main reasons. Craftwise, they’re similar to writing poems and poem making is how I fell in love with writing. Message and audience-wise, picture books speak to a multi-generational audience. The message(s) in the books plant seeds of perspective early in the minds of future generations as well as the adults that read the books to children, often more than once. How many authors of adult books have readers read their book multiple times over? So my reach and influence is greater.
     One challenge of writing picture books for me is to limit the number of layers and themes in one book. As for finding a home for them, there are many challenges. I’m still learning how to master picture book forms (I suspect this will be a lifelong education). There are also major hooks that I lack talent with. Humor is an example. I would love to be able to write funny, but I can’t.

Is there one piece of advice to other writers that you’d like to end with?
Writing is an ever-evolving creative practice. To be fulfilled by it, embrace and respect this truth and appreciate all it has to teach you. As the poet Marge Piercy writes in her poem to writers, To the young who want to: “You have to like it better than being loved.”

Thanks, Bonni.

A new year, a new project – Tip Sheets

Recently on Facebook, someone announced with understandable pride and pleasure that they had just published their first book. More than 500 people Liked the post. But as the poster provided neither the title of the book nor a link so people could get more information or buy the book – 500 chances of connecting readers with the author’s hard work and achievement were lost.

The first of a series of Tip Sheets – my new project for 2022 – is Promoting Your Self-Published book.

The series will focus on various elements of writing and publishing, which will be compiled at year-end into an ebook, proceeds from the sale of which will go to Literacy Central Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile, individual Tip Sheets will be posted here for interested writers to download and use for free. With 30 years of teaching to draw on – and more than 130 handouts – I have lots to work with, and hope to provide useful info for all those people whose main concern at the end of a conference or workship is “Were there handouts?”.

Each two-page sheet includes ten to twelve tips, and links to related How To information, building on the content of the tips provided.

Please download the first in the series, read, share, and contact me with comments and suggestions for further Tip Sheets.

Next up: Tips for Public Readings

A new year, a new project – Weekly Tip Sheets

Recently on Facebook, someone announced with understandable pride and pleasure that they had just published their first book. More than 500 people Liked the post. But as the poster provided neither the title of the book nor a link so people could get more information or buy the book – 500 chances of connecting readers with the author’s hard work and achievement were lost.

The first of a series of Weekly Tip Sheets – my new project for 2022 – is Promoting Your Self-Published book.

The series will focus on various elements of writing and publishing, all 52+ of which will be compiled at year-end into an ebook, proceeds from the sale of which will go to Literacy Central Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile, individual Tip Sheets will be posted here for interested writers to download and use for free. With 30 years of teaching to draw on – and more than 130 handouts – I have lots to work with, and hope to provide useful info for all those people whose main concern at the end of a conference or workship is “Were there handouts?”.

Each two-page sheet includes ten to twelve tips, and links to related How To information, building on the content of the tips provided.

Please download the first in the series, read, share, and contact me with comments and suggestions for further Tip Sheets.

Next up: Tips for Public Readings


December already?

It’s been a busy six weeks since my latest book was released on October 12. I have been deeply touched by the reviews, interviews and support it has received – much of which I have posted on this page.

I do feel like I have indundated FB, Twitter and various forums with information about the book. But I am glad news about it has not only reached homelessness and anti-poverty groups, but also generated quite a few sales for my two local independent bookstores.

I am currently in those doldrums of wondering what to focus on next. I await news on another nonfiction book proposal, am still playing with drafts of a few picture books, working with my wonderful critique groups – one in person, and another online by Zoom – and just this week started the draft of what may become a new midgrade realistic novel.

Or not.

But it’s also coming up to Christmas. So family, community and social events beckon, and I’m hoping to have the chance for a while of taking each day as it comes, rather than consulting my calendar as soon as I open my eyes.

I am early to this – although it may well be a week or so before any of my Christmas lights or decorations go up. But best wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season – however you celebrate it. I look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.

A few of my Santas sit alongside my mother’s handmade Christmas cards

When making art is like writing – or vice versa

I’ve not been doing much writing these days – partly sidelined by the various promotional activities related to the Oct 12 release of SHELTER: HOMELESSNESS IN OUR COMMUNITY. Partly because I have discovered watercolours.

I have been dabbling in both sketching and watercolours for the past few years, largely as an alternative to using a written journal when I have been traveling . But in the last few months I have been doing it a lot more. And in the process, I have recognized tendencies and practices that seem to serve me well across both media.

Istanbul, 2019

Less is more. I have always been what I think of as a ‘quick and dirty’ writer. My practise is to write a lot and quickly, and not worry too much about the details. In art it’s the same. I like the broad strokes, at least in the early stages, before I start getting much closer.

Know what I want the reader/viewer to get out of the piece. In writing, for me that means identifying and articulating my central premise / theme / the story or scene goal right off the top. (Sometimes I put the premise line at the top of each page to keep me focussed.) In sketching and painting, it’s about being aware of where I want the reader’s eye to go (‘Focal Point’). I am often amazed at many pieces of new artists’ work give no real idea of what they want the viewer to look at – this applies to photogrpahers, too. I am glad I learned this early.

Lean on mentors. In writing, early on I relied on Gary Provost (Make Your Words Work), Constance Hale (Sin and Syntax), The Art of Narrative by Vancouver Island writer Jack Hodgins, and others, as I found my way. For art, I watch a lot of Ian Roberts’ invaluable and admirably concise video series on composition, British artist Liz Chaderton, and the book Loosen up Your Watercolours by Judi Whitton.

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head, Sussex

Share what I have learned. I don’t know much about art yet. But if someone admires something about a piece, or is curious about it, I will gladly tell them why I did it that way, and how.

Write / sketch or paint first. Edit and add detail later. I love a good first draft – that heady moment when I look at something and really discover what I am working with and how I might continue. It’s a pretty neat moment in art when I see the first marks or washes on the page. So many ways to go! But not too soon!

Sissinghurst, Kent 2021

Do it a lot. I’m a pretty immersive learner. Although right now I call what I do with paint and pencil ‘dabbling’ – as much for the watercolour analogy as anything – I am actually working on it nearly every day for as much as two to three hours. I did pretty much the same when I was writing. Word is that it takes a million words to attain mastery at writing. I wonder how many of my 10-minute watercolour ‘jobbies’ will it take to get anywhere close with art.

Study the work of others. Reading and analysing what’s on the page and how the writer achieved it is one of the best ways for writers to learn their craft. I recently discovered Dan Scott’s Draw Paint Academy where he offfers courses and shows the progress on individual pieces of his own work, and also analyses the work of the great artists. I find I am learning a lot about composition, colour, light, and values from them.

Mimicking David Hockney 2021

Finding the best tools takes time – and in the case of art, even more money. I have spent hours standing in front of displays of notebooks and pens – in an agonized search for the right ones. For art there are even more tools to spend time – and much more money – on. Watercolour paints and pencils comes in many forms, qualities and colours. Paper is a very personal choice – I prefer to work on 5.5 x 8.5 spiral pads of mix media or cold press watercolour paper. But I will keep buying and trying different ones – and the rate I am going I need lots of it!

‘Estuary’ Sept 9, 2021

Process over product. I don’t worry about ‘getting it right’ or being ‘good’. I am always more excited – both in writing and watercolour sketching – on practising the craft than worrying about the outcome – yet.

Always return to ‘Beginner’s mind’. I try to be open to new ways of doing things, new topics and themes all the time… even though no story I have ever written included ‘kitties’, and they are not likely to be a subject of my watercolour sketches. any time soon.

Beach Visit 2020

And another month goes by…

I am not much farther along than I was last month, although I can feel the heat of the fire that someone needs to light under me.

The release of my new book is just over a month away. Already I made a short intro video for United Library Service reps to use as they promote my book, and agreed to do a Schools Presentation for Vancouver’s Readers and Writers Festival and perhaps talk to the media about the book in relation to the presentation. And I am working with fellow author Jacquie Pearce – whose own book What Aniamls Want: The Five Freedoms’ comes out the same day as mine – to create a series of three short videos ‘She Said / She Said’ in which we interview each other about our books. Oh – and I am also working on a book trailer for my own book, which you will see here first.

The next thing to do is to pin down just how and where to do a book launch. I am hoping it will be hosted by the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo as 25% the the author roylaties from the book will go to the Unitarian Shelter they oversee, and I am a member of that supportive and loving community.

Problem is – How? In person with limited numbers? On Zoom? Where? In person at the Fellowship Hall or by Zoom? I am hoping that Nanaimo’s Windowseat Books will be the launch bookselller, and that I can pitch the launch to both Fellowship members, my writing freinds and peers, family and anyone interested in the issue of homelessness.

It’s a lot to get my head around given the shifting circustmances of COVID. And more and more it’s looking like this will be an online event. But I must ‘get my finger out’ and make some decisions.

But whatever else I decide and how I plan to do it, I do hope my writing mojo will come back. My creative energies have recently been directed into sketching and watercolours… and I just don’t seem to have the urge to do much with words on paper, right now. Possibly because the whole process of promotion and making ‘art’ uses completely different parts of my brain than writing.

An early ‘dabble’. One of my favourite views in the world. The Seven Sisters, from Seaford Head, Sussex, UK.

It’s been a while

COVID – and life – seems to have upended all my routines and messed with my goals in recent months. But I have managed to plod on, word by word, line by line, and have especially enjoyed the magic of dipping in and out of picture book stories – older ones languishing in my files, and a few new ones. And I even have a few out on submission now.

But the past week or so I have been preoccupied with the intracies of iMovie and Zoom’s recording function as I struggle to put together a couple of videos and book trailers to help promote my forthcoming book.

All the technology is there. But my tolerance for and patience with it is diminishing. Even a recent update on this platform has got me frustrated and confused. Which could explain my recent blog silence.

But I will keep at it. And soon, I hope, be able to post a clip or two of a conversation with another writer whose latest book releases on the same day as mine, and a trailer for mine. Meanwhile, stay tuned for that, as well as details as events and activities around the Oct. release and book launch for SHELTER: HOMELESSNESS IN OUR COMMUNITY.

And perhaps, if I’m lucky, I might even some good news about one of those pieces drifting out there in the publishing ether.

Committed to picture books

Since January I have been committed exclusively to picture books. Reading them. Critiquing them. Studying them. Writing them. I plan to keep it up until December 31 at least, hoping that this might be THE year that I can sell one.

Picture books are the equivalent to poetry in my mind. Good ones engage, enlighten, entertain and have the power – when done well – to be ‘about more than they’re about’. Leaving the reader or listener with more than they are aware of, something that stays with them.

Thinking about this today, I was reminded of something that happened on April 20, 1995. Almost 26 years ago.

I had been teaching weekly creative writing classes to inmates at a medium/maximum security prison in BC’s Fraser Valley. Some men showed up every week because they were interested in writing. Most, because the class was the best option when there was nothing else to do.

As I prepared for class that day, I knew I had to come up with something particularly engaging. The day before, the Oklahoma Bombing had occurred, killing 168 people, including 19 children, with many more injured.

I wanted to head off any discussion – which was very likely to arise – about the crime, the penal system and the need for anarchy. Something I discouraged as these topics often arose as writing subjects and topics for general discussion.

Corrections Canada Matsqui Institution

That day, some instinct made me reach for something I had never done before. I pulled every picture book I could find from my own shelves and made a run to the library for another handful.

I began the class that afternoon with what I told the students I did regularly in the library where I worked – a storytime. I may have read them In The Night Kitchen. Or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Most men there looked bored, lit cigarettes, tipped their chairs back against the wall and talked amongst themselves. But a few listened.

Then I talked very briefly about some of the qualities of picture books, and fanned my selections out across the table and invited them to take a look.

It took a while. But soon, even those who had been bored earlier were engaged. Picking one up book after another, reading it to themselves or to a neighbour. One man reminisced about his memories of his childhood ‘library storytime lady.’ Another described how his grandfather had bought him a subscription to a series of Disney books, of which he received one a month through the mail. Another mentioned reading picture books to his estranged son. Their voices softened. Their stance shifted.

Soon everyone was poring over the books, passing them around, reading entire stories aloud to themselves or each other, laughing, joking, competing for books they recognized or wanted to explore for the first time.

I didn’t teach anything else that day. Instead, I sat back and watched and listened, relishing the sight of these men whose experiences I could hardly imagine and whose crimes I knew little about, returning to gentler times for just a short while, though the magic of picture books.

Red letter day: Cover Reveal


There are a number of significant dates in the journey of a book from idea to publication.

1. The contact is signed…. In this case April, 2019. (This after pitching the book in fall 2018).

2. The manuscript is delivered.
(Jan 2020).

3. The publisher and author sign off on the final version of the MS.  (Fall 2020)

4. The cover reveal. And here it is!


Back and front covers

Thanks to Toronto illustrator Taryn Gee, who did not only do the cover image, but also contributes illustrations that accompany the text – which will also includes a number of photos as well – a few of which are my own.

I could not be more excited or proud of this book, which is due out October 2021, and can be pre-ordered through Orca Book Publishers’ website and on Amazon and other online sites.

Who knows what the landscape will look like next fall, but wouldn’t it be great if it were possible to plan an in-person launch!

Especially if I can combine it with the launch of fellow BC writer Jacquie Pearce’s book in the same series What Animals Want: The Five Freedoms in Action.

Word by Word

Hard as it may be to believe, not every writer is as enamoured of words as I am. I love the sound, shape and taste of them (yes, many seem to actually have a taste to them!)

Many writers love concepts and ideas, are great storytellers, create engaging characters, explore signifianct themes and subjects and develop interesting plots. But not everyone is keen to get down, dig deep and pick over each word, making sure it’s doing the job it’s there to do, conveying the idea most clearly, helping define the tone and pace of the piece.

I learned to love wordsmithing from reading works by Dickens, Rumer Godden, Hemingway, Margaret Wise Brown, Rudyard Kipling, Karma Wilson, Dr. Seuss. William Mayne, Anthony Doer, Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, Anne Kenyon, Mary Oliver… From hearing my father read aloud, and a high school teacher reciting Chaucer in Middle English, from animated children’s storytime readers and adult storytellers, from lyricists and poets, bible-thumping minsters and political orators, children and elders, and everyone whose work I have read or heard.

The writing teacher and author Gary Provost explored many elements of language in his book Make Your Words Work; his classic piece ‘This Sentence Has Five Words’ is always worth revisiting. Oregon editor and writing instructor Elizabeth Lyon digs deep into diction and syntax in many of her writing books. A new book I recently discovered Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsythe takes words, language and its meanings seriously. And in a recent presentation called ‘Sound, Sense and Shape – The Work of Our Words’ author Sutta Crum provided a highly engaging and useful look at the power of words to shape meaning and tone.

In my opinion, every word counts. And every time I come across a wonderful piece of writing, or a teacher who makes the point eloquently by sharing examples along with their own passion for language, I am reminded once again to slow down and look closer at every word I commit to the page.

Edited to add the link to this useful presentation by Pat Zeitlow Miller – ‘When Less is More’.

The trouble with first drafts

I do quite a bit of critiquing. As a member of two writing groups and as a writing teacher, and randomly supporting other writers online.

I love it. I learn more about my own craft from critically reviewing other people’s work. And I hope my input helps other writers move their work along to the next draft.

What I am uncomfortable with, are first drafts.

First drafts to me are compost heaps. You throw everything on there, let it season, then later dig through it to find what’s germinated. First drafts are where you figure out what you want to write about, why, the tone, tense, POV you might use. Where you might just be laying down a premise or idea without committing to it yet. Something you will use later to discover what you still need to learn about your topic, or your intent.

Giving your first draft to someone else to read is one thing. Asking for input on it is another. In a way, it’s asking others to do much of the heavy lifting that you should be doing yourself in the second draft – as a way to discover the why and what of what you’re writing. And to figure out the best way to write it.

This is why I ask people who ask me to critique their work s to tell me which draft they are sharing. And why I will probably send it back if they say it’s in first draft.

Sharing ideas, themes, story germs is a wonderful thing for writers to do. Asking others to throw a lot of What Ifs at the idea for you to pick through can be tremendously helpful. Having others ask any of the Five Ws and How questions may help you clarify your idea and your thoughts.

But that is not critiquing. It’s brainstorming, something that can be fun, energizing and enlightening.

Plan a brainstorming session with your group or writing partner from time to time. Or make it a regular part of your meetings. Everyone will get a lot out of it.

But those first drafts? Get in the habit of throwing everything you have at them, without worrying about who else will see it. Keep it to yourself. Then, in the next draft apply what you know about the craft to refine your central premise, identify your intent, and fine-tune the writing.

And only then pass it on to a trusted reader or writer to critique. 

I will be posting a Tip Sheet on critiquing here in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, check out other information on my Help for Writers page.

I hereby resolve…

Some realizations come slowly, like an incoming tide. Others, they’re on me like a rabid dog.

On Monday, January 4, in the midst of sewing a handful of dummy books for a couple of picturebook ideas I have been toying with, I realized that THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO NOW. Work on capturing, exploring and developing picture book stories.

My grandson, immersed in one of my storytime favourites

I’ve had fifteen years of writing fiction for primary to middle school kids. I am proud of the eight books I’ve published for those readers. And gratified by the response from readers, teachers, librarians and awards judges.

I am coming to the end of almost two years work on my first – and what may be my only – midgrade nonfiction book, Shelter – Homelessness in Our Community, due out from Orca Book Publishers in October 2021. (You’ll be hearing much more about that as things develop.)

But now, for the next year I want to have fun. I am not as yet – but ever optimistic that I will be – published in the picture book genre. I have loved them for years, having shared hundreds with children in my own family and at library storytimes, and admired them for the delicate marriage between text and imagery and their poetry-like attention to language.

They are a hard sell, in more ways than one. I’ve sent many off into the unforgiving – and often unresponsive – picturebook publishing ether. The closest I came was with one story My Boots, Your Boots, which was accepted, the first payment in the advance paid, and then, like so many other projects, disappeared without a trace during a change in editors at the publishing company. A more recent story Spit and Polish, about the unlikely topic of PTSD, has been doing the rounds for quite a while.

I am now ready to try again. And to keep trying.

I am on Day Four of the StoryStorm picturebook challenge, aiming for at least 30 ideas in the next month – I’m at six so far. In a few days I will be signing up for the Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book challenge, during which I will try to come up with drafts of 12 picturebook stories over the next year.

I will still be teaching and mentoring – something I truly love doing.

But for 2021, I am going to commit myself to dancing dogs, puddle jumping, the world of underwater flowers, Morning Monsters, angels with frozen wings… and small children exploring and surviving their challenging lives.

StartWrite in 2021

As of January 1, every day I am posting a writing prompt to help anyone hoping to develop a regular writing habit,  strengthen their writing practise, generate words, explore ideas and examine craft.

Now all listed on the Prompts page of Help for Writers.

There you will also find tips for using the prompts, and others for what to do with the results.


NANOWRIMO + 21: SO done with outlining

Jan 10 2021 Update
On Jan 4, I packed away all my hardcopy files, sunk the electronic files for my NANO projects deep in me laptop directory, and saved just the germ of The Child of Sea and Sand for a picturebook story called The Selkie’s Buttons. For the next year I am committing myself to picturebooks. And will come back to chapter books and midgrade novels in 2022. You’ll find the ‘full story’ here

gave it my best shot.

I spent October outlining a novel Wherever You Are, and exploring various tools and structures for creating an outline – so I could pass the info on to anyone else who wanted to know how to do it.

On November 1, I started off working on scenes that I had outlined.

I kept it up until November 7.

Confused much?

Confused much?

At which point I decided ‘Sod this for a lark’, and packed away my binder, notebooks, spreadsheets and checklists. By the time I started writing the story I had planned, I was sick to death of it, knew too much about it and everyone in it. So I decided to start a new project from scratch without an outline in front of me.

I am now 33.482 words into Child of Sea and Sand, and loving every minute.

I have listed over 20 scenes by name – and coming up with more almost every day – and work from that list, some items of which might include a few notes to get me started. But that’s all I need. I don’t have time for The Muse or any faith in Inspiration. But I do trust in some intuitive knowledge of story and rely on the ‘hum’ (as Scott Olen Butler calls it in his book From Where You Dream – The Process of Writing Fiction), or ‘ache’ (as my old short story mentor Alex Keegan named it) of the main character’s basic yearning to keep me moving forward.

And I do that mainly by developing scenes. The basic elements of which include:
a) the scene problem,
b) the conflict that comes out of whatever obstacle is in the way of the solution to the problem,
b) the main character’s emotion that drives that scene,
c) recognition of whether this is a Pre-scene, Main Scene or Sequel, and
d) the outcome/complication/reversal that will continue to drive the narrative at the end of the scene.

At the end of each day I read the pages, mark up threads as throughlines that I want to be aware of as I move forward, but I don’t do any editing then. Nor will I until I have written all the scenes that I think the story needs.

The second draft work (and often my favourite part of the the whole process) will involve figuring out what scene goes where, and only then will I dig deeper into the text to identify and work on what needs fixing.

This is pretty well the way I have worked for years, without necessarily having articualted all the moving parts. I’ve long since stopped listening to advice about what anyone should do in the process of developing whatever creative work they are involved in. 

Everyone works differently. It’s worth trying out other processes from time to time. But I always come back to doing it my way.

Will I achieve the 50,000-word NANO goal by the end of November? Maybe. But possibly not. If the story is done earlier, that’s when I will quit and move on to working on the next draft of Child of Sand and Sea, or whatever it’s titled at that point.

But what I have finally been able to do, after the past eighteen months working on nonfiction, is to find the flow of fiction again. And I am loving being totally immersed in the Cornwall of my childhood, its beaches, cliffs, villages and language, and the old follktales of giants, knockers, piskies and selkies.

selkieMerryn Prowse swims with the seals on Porthallow Beach

The NANOWRIMO three-step

NANO is less than 24 hours away.

I’m stoked.

I took my best shot at outlining (not  a natural process for me), and have been exercising my creative muscle by writing every day since Oct 1 (resulting in drafts of one picture book story, one short story, one piece of personal narrative, and one ‘pome’ + other dross), so I am back in the routine.

I’ve also tested a three-step process that seems to work.

ONE. Begin each day by making a few notes in my daybook about the writing I expect to do that day (or about what I struggled with the day before). During  NANO it will be at that point – in bed with my morning cup of tea – that I will figure which of the 33 scenes I’ve listed so far to work on. I won’t write it there and then. But write about writing it.

biceps 2

That’s me, can’t you tell? In shape and ready to go!

TWO. Then I will write that scene, and maybe more – in one or two 60- to 90-minute sessions during the day with my eye on the daily goal of 1,667 words. 

THREE. Each evening, I will print the pages I’ve worked on that day, and mark them up. Not in the same place where I have been writing – at my desk. But in another chair somewhere far from the siren call of my laptop. And not for the purposes of revising and editing right away, but before I file the hard copy pages, which I will put away until NANO is over. 

That’s it. As easy as One-two-three… that’s how elementary, it’s gonna be.

Well, we’ll see!

NanoWriMo -7: Waiting for the spooky stuff

Seven days to go. And I am SO done with outlining.

It is not my natural way of working, but I thought I would try it this time, as I am working from scratch on a new project, and many other writers suggest this is a good way of working.

So far, I have:

  • Identified the Six Big Scenes in the story – Inciting Incident, First Plot Point, Mid Point, Second Plot Point, Climax and Resolution.
  • Listed 26 other scenes that I will cobble together – possibly combining or extending some into full chapters – once I have reached the end, wherever and whenever that is.
  • Drafted notes of background and motivation for each of the three main characters and four secondary ones.
  • Some days used my First 500 Words daily sprint sessions to brainstrom thoughts about setting and plot details, and the entire story overall.
  • Collected a gallery of images to represent my main characters and three main settings.
  • Started a section of Random Notes to add anything and everything as it occurs to me – so far three pages of handwritten notes.


And I am done.

And ready for the next – and my favourite part – of any fiction project.

This is when the actual act of writing tends to throw up all kinds of ‘spooky writing stuff’ on the page. Leaving me to respond – internally or out loud  – “Ah, so that’s what happens.” “Who are you, and why are you here?” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” “Yes. That could work.” “No. Not a chance.” 

 One advantage of using my writing muscle regularly is that I am usually able to write ‘quick and dirty’. Which for the most part helps silence that monkey-mind editor that sits on my shoulder as I unconsciously delve into all the stuff that’s below the surface, or hiding in the deeper recesses of my overloaded brain.  

Usually I can just keep going to see where the writing takes me without too much judgement and a lot of curiosity. 

I will be interested to see what happens this time.


NANOWRIMO – 16 days to go


Outlining seemed like a good idea at the time. Even if I had always been a ‘pantser’ in the past, I had lots of tools, links, books and articles to show me the way. But as often happens,  too much research led me to dig myself into a hole I am having difficult getting out of.

Sure, I have somewhat of an outline for a midgrade novel WHEREVER YOU ARE. Basic character sketches. Five Big Scenes identified, including the first Plot Point, Second Plot Point, Mid Point, Third Plot Point and Climax. And about 20 smaller scenes listed.

I am juggling a mess of index cards, worksheets, and notes. All of which I hope will be useful when I actually start writing this thing on November 1. Which is what I am most looking forward to – putting words on the page in narrative form that bring the story to life. But I have twisted myself into such an unwieldy knot, I am now trying to extricate myself from it.


At the beginning of October I starting leading a group of beginning writers in writing one-page stories, profiles and personal narrative. One page or 500 words. To support them, I committed to writing 500 words a day, every day, in an effort I called First 500 Words. As in – First, five hundred words – that is, before doing much else in the day – or as in, before writing anything else, first get those 500 words down on paper.

It’s that that has saved me. I have written 500 words a day since then, on top of anything and everything else I had going in terms of outlining, revising other stuff, drafting teaching handouts, etc. Most days I don’t even write about the story. I have written about eating pomegranates, the loneliness of solo long distance flights, my father’s hands, windstorms, Harvest Festival church services, beachcoming… In fact, I have a list of 37 things I could use for my daily 500-word sprints. 

NGThe few times I have tackled this new book idea, I have found that by using stream of consciousness writing (or using Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practise Rules from her book WRITING DOWN THE BONES) I have not only unearthed story elements that had not occured to me, but have also come up with character details, setting descriptions, lists of questions that need answering before or during wiriting the story, and notes on what I already know about at least two topics I need to do research for the book. 

Writing 500 words a day, I told my students – without expecting they would want to do it as a daily practise – could yield 180,000 words in a year.

Even if this latest book idea turns out to be a bomb, if nothing else – if I can keep up my First 500 Words project as I have since the beginning of October – I will have come up with a lot of words.

Including these – which coincidentally when I just checked, turned out to be another 498!