Been Awhile

The day job has kept me busy the past month. During my time away from the writing, I work as a technologist for a school district. The team that I’m part of is tracking toward a mid-July deadline that will likely keep me from seriously making a dent in the pile of writing I had planned. Bills must get paid.

I will no doubt tinker with words in the weeks to come, and as time (read: energy) allows. If you’re waiting for something meritorious from me, please stick with me. I plan to pick up the pieces of my writing life later this summer. Until then, be well and dream of cloud elephants.

Do You Outline?

I have mountains of notes to self. Story ideas. Character sketches. Things to remember. Scraps of paper of every size imaginable.

As I’ve been working to get myself a bit more organized of late, I have been transcribing many of these notes into a digital repository of sorts. I still have a long way to go, but I’m making progress toward a better, more manageable notes workflow.

I don’t recall ever being a fan of outlines in school. Honestly, I am the type of writer that “outlines” on the fly. That is to say, I find I am most successful when I just dive in to the story and manipulate the flow as I go. I use an app called iA Writer for banging out my writing. It’s a super simple (read: few frills) wordsmithing tool that integrates with Dropbox for storage. I have a version of the app on my iPhone, iPad, and desktop. Wherever I am, I can pick up where I left off with a piece on whatever device is at hand.

I’ve also recently integrated an outliner into my workflow. Not so much as a writing aid, but rather as a way of tasking myself out as a writer and a human being. Keeping myself accountable to the craft of writing is something I have not been great at in the past. As I commit myself to the life of a writer, that must change.

I don’t recall where I first learned about WorkFlowy as an outliner, but I’ve been working with it for roughly a week. I love the process that it has added to my approach. I can add items and cross them off as I finish them to map my progress towards achieving a bigger goal. Little else hits a chord like striking items as complete. While I haven’t spent time surveying the market for task-based productivity apps, I have no doubt that there are a wealth of options. I happen to like WorkFlowy because it, like iA Writer, can follow me on all of my devices. And, it’s free. I can add 500 items to my outline per month with the free plan. Similar to Dropbox, WorkFlowy has an incentive program that boosts maximum monthly items based on referring others. If you’re looking for a cool outliner to add to your toolbox, I’d appreciate it if you would follow this link and give it a try. We’ll both get an additional 250 monthly items in the process. If you do, please let me know how you are using the tool in your life.

Both of these apps are making it easier to manage my crazy brain. Not an easy task, but they’re doing a fine job so far.

New Watercolor Box

I like to think my writing has the expressiveness of watercolors.

I ordered, and today received, a cool little watercolor box from the fine folks at Wet Paint in Saint Paul, MN. It’s called the Whiskey Painters Standard Palette and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be – small and pocketable. It’s somewhat pricey at $30, but seems to be well-built and has room enough for 12 half-pans of your favorite watercolor. It comes with empty half-pans that you can fill, and will also accommodate the Schmincke half-pans which I’ve grown to love for their intensity.

I’m a watercolor tinkerer. This looks like the type of box a watercolor tinkerer would carry.

paletteTop Row (L-R) - Schmincke Cobalt Green Turquoise (510), Schmincke Helio Turquoise (475), Schmincke Dark Blue Indigo (498), Schmincke Paris Blue (491)

Middle Row (L-R) - Daniel Smith Mayan Red, M. Graham Permanent Green Pale,
M. Graham Titanium White Gouache, M. Graham Quinacridone Rust

Bottom Row (L-R) - Schmincke Indian Yellow (220), Schmincke Gold Brown (654),
M. Graham Olive Green, Schmincke Translucent Orange (218)

Palindrome Reflections

(The following was originally published November 1, 2011)

“SEIZE FROM EVERY MOMENT ITS UNIQUENESS”

These are the words, written in red, on the bit of rectangular paper inside of a Chinese fortune cookie I ate. Sometimes wisdom confronts us in odd ways. I’m still chewing on this bit.

Tomorrow is a palindrome. 11-02-2011. It has been a year filled with them, but tomorrow is different by a degree of 33. It will be my birthday. So, as I sit here writing on the eve of my 33rd anniversary of life, I’m naturally apt to be reflecting on what was, what is, and what shall be.

As this is a spot for writing banter first and foremost, I’ll share some of the reflection as it relates to words.

I suppose I’ve always been a writer. Although the memories are somewhat vague, I do remember having a pretty solid command of language from a young age. Nouns and verbs have always been familiar to me in a way that math never really was. I credit my writing ability to the fact that I’ve always been a reader. Reading books (newspapers, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, et al)  is something that, quite honestly, I probably couldn’t live without. It is the longtime consumption of words that surfaces my desire to create with them as an author. Close to a year after completing my student teaching, I still find myself thinking about the writing motto in my fourth grade classrooms: “What have you read that is like what you’re trying to write?” It is because I want to make reading (and, more importantly, life) enjoyable for young people that I long to write lasting children’s stories. To know that someday a student might use a book that I pen as a mentor text for his/her own writing adds a heavy motivation to get it right and get it done.

The Importance of Sophistication in Children’s Books

I’ve yet to publish a story for children, but I own and have read bookshelves full. The ones that intrigue me most are those that have adventure, humor, and sophistication. Yes, sophistication. In the realm of children’s literature, I believe sophistication comes in many forms. It might be rich and complex illustrations. Or, it might be carefully penned sentences that create vivid imagery in the mind of a child. In many instances, the words meld with the pictures to create an entirely magical package that invites children to sit back, relax, and explore a world not exactly their own. Whatever form it takes, creating sophistication in a work to be enjoyed by children (and their adults) is, in my mind, a requirement. Think of it as my aspiration to produce smart writing for those who shall become smart.

Here are three picture books with degrees of sophistication that I recommend:

The Red Tree – Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Twilight Comes Twice – Written by Ralph Fletcher, Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Tuesday – Written and Illustrated by David Wiesner