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My New Math

December 1, 2014

I’ve completed, once again, the PiBoIdMo challenge.

vinvogel_piboldmo_winnerFor 2014, with calculated intent, I’ve added a batch of ideas for picture books. They now wait to be prodded and picked and refined into picture book drafts.

This was the fourth year I’ve participated, and I find I’m still picking  ideas from lists as far back as four years ago.  A number of ideas have been polished into full fledged stories.  Thanks to Tara Lazar and her marvelous guest authors, editors, and agents, not only do I have ideas, I have knowledge and insight and skills that I haven’t had before.

If you’ve read previous posts, you might know that I shifted focus to non-fiction last year. I tweaked a February 14:14 challenge on reviewing the elements of picture books to write reviews on non-fiction works.  In October I declined attending my state SCBWI conference to be able to attend the NF 4 NF non-fiction conference in Texas.

So in November I adopted a new strategy for PiBoIdMo. I tailored the challenge, daring myself to come up with TWO ideas per day: one non-fiction PB idea, and one fiction PB idea.

Dosn’t 30 + 30 = 60, you say?  Yes, I fell below my personal challenge of 60 ideas. And yes, the goal to complete the group challenge was 30 ideas.  And YES, I have 16 more ideas than if I had accepted the norm.

I learned this year that the sum of an equation depends on the addends in the equation. The addends PiBoIdMo offered, plus the addends I dared to include, gave me a better sum than the ordinary.

Make the challenges you accept your own challenges. Dare to tweak and modify and add to keep the challenge relevant, and practical for you.  Divide a challenge into meaningful parts. Hey, subtract, even–sometimes less can be more.

I now know that how I add ideas to my writing journey isn’t going to be common core anymore.

I like my new math.  I think I’ll keep writing with it.

I’m Writing…

November 8, 2014

“Writing time” is rare for me it seems…but with the encouragement, and insight, and help of my NF4NF peers, I am learning to regard writing as more than just BIC.

ImWriting 001Pat Miller, at the recent Non-Fiction 4 New Folks seminar in Texas, gave participants a ‘bookmark’ that reminds us to ‘keep writing.’ She was careful to define that as whatever we are needing in our writing life to move forward with our goals.

That bookmark is reminding me to get my butt in my writing chair.

YES, butt-in-chair is critical…necessary…elemental to the writing experience.  But so are the following:

SIC- Self in Community – engaged in the writing community as a source for the pressure and affirmation we need from one another to write well, write better, write from ourselves in a way that others can read us.

BIR- Brain in Research – Learning both facts and truths about our topics and settings and causes-and-effects so that our stories can maintain for non-fiction authenticity and accuracy, or  for fiction a strong suspension of disbelief.

HIW – Heart in Writing – Discovering, if we don’t yet know, why we want to write. This can be empowering and freeing.

TIC – Training in Craft – How to write well for your readers is where a writer’s skills, knowledge, and passion combine to become the art of his or her heart.

Expression doesn’t happen automatically for writers, it’s learned and practiced and done.

So I expect, to paraphrase the old Sammy Fain song, that “[I’ll] be  seeing [you] in—-all the old familiar [writing] places.”

Once Conceded—Twice (or Thrice) Deleted: Treats AND Tricks

October 31, 2014

It’s like trick, and treat.

You know. You discover some deep insight on someone’s blog, and you’ve got to ‘follow’ them.  You laugh out loud at another writer’s experience, and you ‘like’ their humor.  A new picture-book author impresses you with their success so you ‘subscribe’ to their writerly wisdom.

All good stuff.  Encouragement. Inspiration. Information.

The problem is, once I ring that doorbell–meaning once I subscribe, follow, or befriend, I am conceding to a social-media-stream of kid-lit community insight.

And soon I am overwhelmed by repeating waves of alerts, posts and notifications.

My facebook feed stutters.  Really.  Because many of my favorite news-feeders (and I can’t do without them) post to three other pages I liked, and to two other groups I joined.  So each priceless bit of wisdom they freely give appears multiple times.

My mailbox is full.  Not only facebook ‘notifications’  of those same feeds but also notices of ‘posts’ I have followed on a number of blogs, as well as podcast arrivals on my phone.

Don’t read me wrongly.  I genuinely treasure the ‘reciprocity’ that my kidlit heroes and my kidlit peers practice.  I know how valuable our free and open connections are.  Where would I be as a children’s writer without what I’ve learned and the opportunities I’ve discovered through our digital connections?

But wow. I often grow weary from deleting repeating posts and notifications, and wading through what I’ve already read more than twice, or thrice, or more.

Can I ask…how do you handle the onslaught?  It’s like getting a bucketful of candy every day.  Just what, and just how, do you throw some of it away? What tricks do YOU use to handle these delicious sweets?

Thirty Somethings

October 27, 2014

As an ‘older’ citizen in the kid-lit community, I have learned to enjoy rubbing elbows with, on average, a ‘younger’ crowd.

I have no idea what the ‘average’ age is for members in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, or the mean age of those disciplined writing souls committed to Meg Miller’s on-going periodic ReviMo revision sessions.  I couldn’t begin to even guess at the median years represented by members in Kristen Fulton’s non-fiction-picturebook WOW group, subscribers to Sylvia Liu’s and Elaine Kiely Kearns’ KIDLIT411, or listeners tuned in to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books.

But I do know, in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo Challenge, we’re all thirty-something for a month!piboidmo2014officialparticipant

Thirty (plus) days of inspiring and informing posts on writing picture books for kids.

Thirty (plus) days of insights into the kid-lit world through comments from a sharing and dedicated community of writers.

Thirty (plus) ideas for when a spark for a story is ready to plug in.  That’s thirty “somethings” with the potential to shine in my writing future.

So with bright excitement I’m participating again in one of the best challenges for writers I’ve ever discovered, Tara Lazar’s 2014 Picture-Book-Idea-Month, all through the month of November.  (The pre-posts have already begun, so check them out to get your ideas glowing.)

Easy Listenin’ Kid Lit…

October 1, 2014


Hey. Check out this new podcast I’ve discovered about picture books, called Picturebooking, by Nick Patton.

I had a new app on my laptop and phone. While searching to add a podcast to the one other kidlit podcast I love (see Brain Burps About Books, by Katie Davis…link next door), I discovered Picturebooking.

These are two totally different podcasts.

While Katie’s podcast revs me up, Nick’s calms me down. What engages me so with Nick’s pocast?  Maybe it’s including his baby daughter in the process, maybe it’s the slow and easy, simple focus of his approach.

At any rate, I like it.  It’s filled a spot.

Not Katie’s spot, mind you.  I need Katie’s full-of-life go-get-it cheerleading style in my writing life as well.  For an old guy needing motivation, spurring on, and a swift kick in the but every other episode to keep me moving, writing, and marketing, Katie, my friend, is the key.

Meanwhile, I also need the stroking, calm, encouraging affirming smile that comes across through Nick’s moments when he shares himself as a writer, through interviews with generous published guest writers, and directly to me, the listener.

Wow.  What a balance.


AND, check out the CONTEST going on now.


Nothing is Better than a Cuddle with a Kid You Love…

September 26, 2014

…and I know the perfect book for it.  Julie Hedlund’s My Love For You Is the Sun is now available at various outlets, and is a premier work of picture-book writing, picture-book art, but more than that, a work of love.  Inspired by Julie’s childhood this book is an expression of grace and gratitude that will become an avenue for your love for the children in your life.

With metaphors illustrated by the marvelous rich colors of Susan Eaddy’s clay art, page by page the dimensions of a parent’s care and affection are unfolded and revealed.  These are feelings that every parent–and every child–will recognize and understand.

This book says it all, and I can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

Variety may be the spice of life—but it’s the DEVIL at a Buffet…

September 20, 2014

My 8th grade English teacher in Louisville, Mississippi, always said “Variety is the spice of life!”  I still agree with Mrs. Camille Fulton, even to this day.  I’ve noticed, however, that variety CAN be a devil.

Today we took Mom to the local Chinese buffet.  I was determined to have a single, simple plate, be a good boy, eat light.  Hey—I’d had several complements lately on weight loss.  I had motivation. I had some accomplishment.

But variety took me by surprise.  It ambushed my ambitions. I’d whispered to myself about 15 times, “Just a taste of this,” and “Only a bite of that,” and “What’s Chinese without a mound of rice?”  “Oooh…pretty dumplings!”

After my second plate of variety, with dessert choices pending, I felt the post-buffet blah. I began to wonder.

Having just figured out Twitter I now have another social network serving line. Within each serving line there are many sterno-heated bins of varieiy.  Advice, wisdom, trends, challenges in multiple genres, forms, and styles.

No wonder I feel stuffed, overwhelmed, and groggy.

How do I battle this buffet-style mentality?  I am working to integrate these strategies into my writer’s diet  (uhh…I mean lifestyle.)

Focus for purpose. One of the best things I’ve done this last year is focus on non-fiction.  As much as I love the fiction line as a story-teller, I felt I needed a focus.  This focus helps me bypass the items that don’t fit on my plate. Focus on a genre, a form, or a style for a season…and only pick from your network feeds what matches that focus.

Fewer entrees for more flavor. Can you imagine dumping your full plate into a food processor before you eat it and pressing the pulse key a few times?  You will loose the flavors of every post in the mix. Overwhelm your system and the delights of flavor, seasoning, and aroma can’t be enjoyed. Savor the posts that matter to your writing career moment.

Smaller servings for full satisfaction.  Gorging on anything minimizes the satisfaction you can feel from good food.    Set a timer when you browse. Avoid checking facebook, Twitter, email notifications all in one setting. Don’t join in on every challenge that’s offered and available.

These strategies can help me appreciate the variety of options up for grabs, while helping me to savor distinct selections in our kid-lit community—without the post-buffet blahs.

Stephen Swinburne's Blog

Steve Swinburne is a children's book author from Vermont with over 30 published books. His most recent book, "Sea Turtle Scientist", is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and on book shelves now!


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