Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One More Photo from Tammi

You’ve seen bits and pieces of Tammi’s office, but here’s a photo of her desk. I don’t about you, but seeing where the magic happens is inspiring to me. Now I’m going out to find a desk just like this one! J

Tammi, as always, thanks for being willing to share with all of us!

Workspace and Work Tips from Tammi Sauer, Day 2

Week of August 28: Workspaces and Work Tips from Writing Friends
Wednesday, August 31: Author Tammi Sauer, Day 2

Taking a Closer Look at Tammi’s Office

On the shelves above my desk, I have stuff that makes me happy/keeps me inspired.

Top shelf stuff (left to right):
The cupcake container is from my sis to celebrate the launch of Mostly Monsterly.
Underneath the cupcake container are two books that my S&S editor Alexandra Penfold gave me the day we first met. Aw.
The painting of Marge and Lola, the chickens from Chicken Dance, came from oh-so-awesome friend and illustrator, Ken Min. Lola’s shirt reads “Chicks Dig the Thunder” because die-hard Lakers fan Ken knows where my love is at.
The stack of pbs includes many of my favorites such as A Pet for Petunia, Grumpy Bird, and Ugly Fish.
Bottom shelf stuff (left to right):
The star cookie cutter is from my editor Alexandra Penfold.
The word BELIEVE is there as a constant reminder.
Underneath BELIEVE are more beloved pbs, one of which is Hush, Little Dragon.
In front of BELIEVE is a tiny duck figurine given to me by the amazing and wildly talented friend and pb author Tara Lazar. Tara thought the duck reminded her of my Mr. Duck in Mr. Duck Means Business and felt it might be a good muse for me. This duck also proved to be my lucky duck. Within days of its arrival, I got an offer on a new pb. Ooh.
The disco ball necklace was given to me by best-selling author and all around super great guy Jay Asher.
The card was given to me by my sister after my first book COWBOY CAMP came out. Yeehaw!
The tiny glass pig was given to me by my daughter because she knows I think pigs are funny.
The flower pot and star pen were given to me by a principal at one of my school visits.
The duck pencil was given to me by Newbery Honor Winner and nicest person ever Cynthia Lord. When RULES debuted, I ordered a signed copy of the book through Cynthia. The book arrived with a fun business card, a Swedish fish, and that pencil.
The small card that reads, “Anything is possible. Believe!” was given to me by the very same pen pal I have had since I was fourteen years old.
The tiny frog was given to me by my son. For luck.
I love having all of these things sitting directly above my desk. They hold memories. They motivate me. They make me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be in this crazy whirlwind of a business.
Now I should probably get back to work. The Mr. Duck figurine is very pushy.
It’s Your Turn!
1 .What things motivate and inspire you? Surround yourself with those things as you write.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Workspace and Work Tips from Tammi Sauer, Day 1

Week of August 28: Workspaces and Work Tips from Writing Friends
Tuesday, August 30: Author Tammi Sauer, Day 1

Top Tip from the Office of Tammi Sauer:
When my children were small, they napped from 2:00-4:00 each day. During those hours, I didn’t watch Oprah. I didn’t call my mom. I didn’t flop down on the couch with a blanket, a Dr. Pepper, and the latest issue of Us Weekly. Even though I really wanted to. Instead, I went inside my office, I ignored the world, and I wrote. Or I read about writing. Or I analyzed picture books. Each day I had those two beautiful hours to myself, and I knew that if I wanted to be a picture book author, I needed to make the most of them.
Three Things That Make My Work Space Work for Me

I have shelves that are filled with many of my favorite books. Not only do I enjoy being surrounded by all of these wonderful words, but I love having easy access to inspiration. When I’m having a tough time coming up with the Next Big Idea, I will often turn to a few of the books in my office. I might simply reread them. I might study them (character, setting, conflict, word choice…). Occasionally, I will type out the text of a book. I love seeing what a book’s manuscript may have looked like, and it’s a great reminder to leave room for the illustrator to tell his/her part of a story.

One of my shelves is devoted to writing resources. Two of my favorites are Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story to Publication and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Even though I’ve been at this writing thing for years, I am constantly striving to learn more.
I have a coaster on my desk that my mom gave to me. It has the following words on it:  “With faith…comes growth.” I love the message. I also love having someplace to set my very-necessary-to-my-writing-process daily 32 oz. ice tea.

My Favorite Places
This is a list of links on my computer. They offer me quick access to Facebook, Twitter, Verla Kay’s message board, and blogs that include Picture This! I know that many people like to ignore the Internet when they are working on projects, but I like to sporadically click onto Facebook or a blog or whatever as I write/revise. Doing so allows me to escape the story for a few minutes, and, when I return to my writing, I feel I see it with fresher eyes. It might sound like a strange approach, but it works for me.

When I am between projects and am trying to determine what sort of story to write next, I have a special favorite place that I like to visit:  Tara Lazar: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) In 2009, Tara started something called PiBoIdMo that stands for Picture Book Idea Month. During the month of November, Tara encourages writers to come up with 30 new picture book ideas. Each day, she also has a guest blogger share an article about a way he/she generates ideas. The following links will take you to those posts:  Be prepared to drool.

My Favorite Writing Companion
This is Snowball. Snowball is my constant writing companion/occasional snorer. He can usually be found underneath my desk. Sometimes he curls up inside one of my display shelves. I think he does this on purpose to look adorable.

Please take a moment to appreciate the photo. Each time I got on the floor to snap the picture, Snowball would either crawl onto my lap or roll over for a tummy rub. What a diva!

I have one other constant writing companion that I love-love-love. Name? Space Heater. Space Heater is on 90% of the time--even when it's 107 degrees outside. Yes. It's a sickness.

It’s Your Turn!1. Creating a space to work is important and can lead to inspiration and, at the very least, personal comfort during long hours of hard work. Create your space and make it what you need it to be.
2. Visit Tammi’s website at

Monday, August 29, 2011

Workspace and Work Tips from Lisa Wheeler

Week of August 28: Workspaces and Work Tips from Writing Friends
Monday, August 29: Author Lisa Wheeler

Since very little of my writing gets done while I stare at a blank screen in my office, I thought I would make a list of places where I have actually written some of my books and also places where I got ideas for them.

1.      Swimming laps in a pool
2.      On a riding lawn mower
3.      On a treadmill

4.      Taking a walk
5.      Riding in a car

6.   Pulling weeds
7.      Cleaning house
8.      Spin class
9.      On a cruise ship

Inside Lisa’s office . . .

This is a tiny smidgeon of my book collection in my office. This shelf also houses my Mother Goose Collection.

This is the sign I have posted above my computer. It was drawn by Kathryn Hunley (, a California artist who took my Boot Camp last June.

This photo is the top of the china closet in my office. This houses the first editions of my books and any subsequent printings. It also holds some of my puppets and treasured book-related mementos.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Here's the message I got from Lisa today—get up from your computer! Get active! See the world! Experience life! Ideas come when you least expect them.
2. Visit Lisa's website at:

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Week of August 28: Workspaces and Work Tips from Writing Friends
Quote of the week:
If you don’t like what you’re doing, you can always pick up your needle and move to another groove.
—Timothy Leary

Wouldn’t you love to peek in the offices of some of your favorite authors and illustrators? Wouldn’t you enjoy sitting down together and listening as they share tips with you for creating your workspace and your work habits? Wouldn’t you like to know what works for them when they’re writing and creating? This week, we’ll do just that. We’ll peek into the offices and work habits of a few groovy authors and illustrators—but we’ll do it with their permission!

Monday: Author Lisa Wheeler
Tuesday: Author Tammi Sauer, Part 1
Wednesday: Author Tammi Sauer, Part 2
Thursday: Author and Writing Coach Joyce Sweeney
Friday: Illustrator/Author Janeen Mason
Saturday: Author Rob Sanders

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thanks, PB&J!

My critique group, PB&J, surprised me at our recent meeting with a You-Signed-with-an-Agent Party. The table was decorated with a cowboy motif in honor of my first picture book. The cool plaque in the photo above now hangs in my home office.

The flowers from the party (filled with Sharpies for signing autographs), is in my office/classroom at school. PB&J, you are the best. I’m buying the flowers for the next celebration. Who’s it gonna be?!

Speaking of school, we are back in full swing. This is the bulletin board outside of my office/classroom. Students are beginning the year learning about memoirs and writing the stories they have on their hearts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Week of August 21—Strategies for Finding Ideas for Writing
Friday, August 25--Using Themes to Inspire Ideas

A week or so ago, some of my writing friends and I were discussing themes in fiction.  I didn’t have much to discuss actually because I’m not all that familiar with themes (must have slept through that in high school English) and I don’t think in terms of "theme" when I write.

However, as I researched themes a bit, I discovered that my stories certainly do have themes—large, universal truths—running through them. So let me share a couple of sites I discovered where you can learn more about themes for yourself. Themes might just be the thing to help you develop some new story ideas.

One site I found ( listed the 12 most common themes in literature. I can easily slot most picture books into one of those theme categories. And perhaps those themes could serve as inspiration for a story. You might say, “I really want to write about how all kids are the same and have the same needs,” and then you would find the story idea that would help you express that theme. Those themes include:

·        Man Struggles Against Nature
·        Man Struggles Against Societal Pressure
·        Man Struggles to Understand Divinity
·        Crime Does Not Pay
·        Overcoming Adversity
·        Friendship is Dependent on Sacrifice
·        The Importance of Family
·        Yin and Yang: Just when you think life is finally going to be easy, something bad happens to balance it all out
·        Love is the Worthiest of Pursuits
·        Death is Part of the Life Cycle
·        Sacrifices Bring Reward
·        Human Beings All Have the Same Needs

Some are pretty heavy, huh?! But I can easily slot most picture books into those theme categories. And perhaps one of those themes could serve as inspiration for a story. You might say, “I really want to write about how all kids are the same and have the same needs,” and then you would find the story idea that would help you express that theme.

Now if you really want to explore themes, check out and you’ll discover a list of 101 common book themes. 
If you're looking for new inspiration for story ideas, give themes a whirl!

Growing an Idea from a Title or Topic

Week of August 21—Strategies for Finding Ideas for Writing
Thursday, August 25—Growing an Idea from a Title or Topic

I’m sure it is apparent by now that I am a writing nerd! So it should come as no surprise that I am always on the lookout for writing ideas, topics, and inspiration. One of my more unusual writing habits involves my addiction to magazines. I love flipping through magazines looking for article titles, advertisement headings, names of recipes, and more. I jot down what I find and add it to my writer’s notebook. (I admit, I do more magazine browsing than buying. So I always have a tablet or notepad nearby.)

Some of my favorite sources are:
·        Women’s magazines
·        Cookbooks and cooking magazines
·        Craft magazines and books
·        Cake decorating books and magazines
·        Children’s magazines

As you are getting up from falling on the floor with laughter, let me say I’ve written an entire story with characters named after chicken recipes, I used the name of a decorated cake to create a setting for a story, and I found interesting verbs in a knitting how-to book that brought a story to life.

The first step in this process is to list what you find. A chart like the one below will help. Write down the titles that pop out at you. Write notes about any photographs or illustrations that catch your eye. And be tuned into what’s going on in your brain. Often when you’re thinking about something random, another good idea will pop into your head. Jot everything down.

Picture Book Ideas from Titles

Ideas from Titles
Ideas from Photos and Images
Random Ideas that Popped Into My Head

I choose one idea from my chart and I begin to flesh out my story. Everyone does this differently. I recently developed a Picture Book Graphic Organizer to share with my critique group. Once you’ve discovered a title and topic you're interested in, try out the graphic organizer to see if it propels your idea down the road to story-dom.

It’s Your Turn!
1. So what are you waiting for? Go search for those titles that can inspire a story!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Ifs That Lead to Ideas

Week of August 21—Strategies for Finding Ideas for Writing
Wednesday, August 24—What Ifs That Lead to Ideas

What If?

Posing a question can often lead to a new idea for writing. One kind of question to use is a “What if . . .” question. In this exercise you want to think as wildly as possible. There are no limits. I find that listing many questions is the best way for me to finally come to one that sparks my imagination.

Today I sat in a meeting (which was not sparking my imagination) and here are some “What Ifs” I came up with. If any of my questions sparks a writing idea for you, go for it!

·        What if Saturn could tell how it feels?
·        What if school pictures were really X-Rays?
·        What if a baseball team had no equipment?
·        What if a parent decided to stay home?
·        What if a kid had magical powers?
·        What if kids could choose super powers?
·        What if zoo animals went on strike?
·        What if book characters came to life in the library?
·        What if a circus came to school?
·        What if a kid could design his own playground?
·        What if monkeys performed ballet?
·        What if cows formed a rock band?
·        What if a pig hated mud, but loved baths?
·        What if the library was closed?
·        What if stuffed animals came to life?
·        What if there was a real boogey man?
·        What if dusty bunnies were related to non-dust bunnies?
·        What if a kid never got a haircut?
·        What if a kid couldn’t stop hiccupping?
·        What if a kid was a NASCAR driver?
·        What if a kid overslept and were late for school?
·        What if a dog was a ventriloquist for its owner?
·        What if a family vacation ended up on the moon?
·        What if the ocean were full of root beer?
·        What if the class pet became invisible?
·        What if a teacher only talked in rhyme?
·        What if a kid got sucked into nursery rhymes?
·        What if kids ruled the world?
·        What if a kid’s sense of smell suddenly was 100 times greater?

What If?

It’s Your Turn!
1. Now that you’ve got the idea, grab your writer’s notebook and start making a list of as many “What If” questions a possible. When one rings your bell, stop and write!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Using Unexpected Connections to Generate Ideas

Week of August 21—Strategies for Finding Ideas for Writing
Tuesday—Using Unexpected Connections to Generate Ideas

Chickens in a talent show who have to deal with their biggest foes—a bunch of smart-mouthed ducks. A boy who helps his best friend (an old woman) overcome her biggest nemesis—a fading memory. A gang of animals who help a zoo keeper during his sick day. These unexpected connections have made three great picture books: Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, and A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead.

A combination of unexpected elements can create a unique story. Today I’ll show you one way to “force” unexpected combinations and produce an idea for a story. Begin by looking at the chart below.

Main Character
Setting, Situation, or Problem
First day of school
Dance recital
Baseball game
Grandma’s house
Big sister
Substitute teacher
Picture Day
Tattling sibling
Summer Camp
Big bad wolf
Field trip
Scary sounds
Substitute teacher
Talent Show
Inability to do something
At the beach
Big brother
4th of July
Younger sister
MC’s biggest rival
Talking tree
In the principal’s office
At the library
MC’s biggest fear
Outer space
Under the ocean
Momma bear
Foreign country
Wicked stepmother
Prehistoric times
Huge dog
Haunted house
Mangy cat
Football player
Fairy Godmother
Stadium or arena

NOTE: You can add to the chart (or even create your own).

Make an Unexpected Connection
To use the chart to create an unexpected connection . . .
1.      Randomly choose one item from each column. For instance:

Witch—Concert—Tattling Sibling

2.      Squeeze the ideas you choose together to form a statement that describes the story you will write. For instance:

This is the story of Matilda the Witch who more than anything wants to play the flute in the school fall concert, but her tattling sister keeps getting Matilda in trouble, until Matilda finds the power music has over people, witches, and even tattling little sisters.

3.      Write the story for your newly-found connection.

1.      Don’t be afraid of strange connections. The stranger the better (and the more unique). Push the limits.
2.      Not every connection will end up being a story. But every attempt to force connections will get you closer to a new, fresh, unique story.
3.      Keep forcing those unexpected combinations in your writing. This is not just a one-time experience or exercise.