6 Insider Tips – Become a Writer Outside-r

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen, 2022

Get out!

Get out!

Sorry. Too abrupt?

Please GO before it’s too late. Not to worry. A horde of flatulating zombies isn’t trudging your way. I want you to get out to discover what being outside can do for your writing.

Non-obligatory disclaimer: Common wisdom says to creating a designated writing space in your home helps the brain associate the space with writing and engage more readily. But it’s summertime! And I live in Michigan. Gnats stick around longer, so I want to enjoy the benefits of being an outsider before it’s too late.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Before you head out, here’s what to pack:

  • Two snacks. (One will be your real snack to refresh you when you need it, and the other is to eat shortly after you head out because once your brain knows that snack is there. We both know it will nag you–like a six-year-old who hears the ice cream truck coming–until you consume it. Do so without guilt or worry. Snack two is there for you.)
  • Hand sanitizer. This relates to the aforementioned.
  • Sunscreen. You want to produce masterful writing, not squamous cells and saggy skin, right?
  • Bug spray. One less distraction.
  • Water. Do I have to explain?
  • Electronic stuff. Fully charged phone for taking photos, recording ideas or even sounds, calling your agent to tell her how lucky she is to have you, and so forth. Fully charged laptop.
  • Legal pen and pens/pencils. Even if you don’t typically write the “old school” way, you may need it if your laptop stops.
  • An ID. This is for emergencies, like when you are blinded by your own brilliance and need help returning to base camp.
  • Something to sit on. (This one is destination dependent.) Think beach towel or a wee cush for the toosh.

To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab. ~ Fran Lebowitz

Oh, Fran. Fran. Fran.

And now, shall we step outside?

Sit on your deck/balcony/patio. Now, be prepared. The writing molecules in your gray matter may go all fizzy, but that’s temporary. Once you’ve acclimated, start a fast-as-you-can-type list of everything your senses are delivering to you. Describe those physical sensations. How do they make you feel emotionally? As a result, what childhood memories come for a visit? Be sure to keep your list in a folder for future reference to add depth and authenticity to your story.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen, 2022

Head to the beach. Listen to the water and the gulls, of course, but tune your ear into children at play, the sounds of distant volleyball match, the flap-flap-flap of a beach umbrella. Record what you see, how your toes feel in the sand, and the smells, both inviting and repulsive. (Is that a dead fish? Seaweed? A diaper?!)

Foamy and frothy/ribbons white/reflecting soft sunbeams/to our delight/foaming in crests/rippling warm sands/tracing their patterns/on the dry land. ~ Poem from “Seashore” by Suzy Davies

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Linger at a sidewalk cafe. You’re not eavesdropping. You’re doing research. This is your chance to snatch random phrases, tone of voice, and humans interacting in their natural, caffeine-laced environment. What does the rude person say? (What’s making them behave this way?) How does the barista respond? (What’s really going on in her head?)

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Walk around the block. Pay attention to the houses, yards, driveways, front stoops and porches. Record whatever captures your imagination. Why is that front door wide open? Why is that woman running with a leash and no dog? Is someone cooking sauerkraut? Oh, my gosh, I think those kids are having a pet funeral. A bike with a basket? I remember those. What’s with that beat up car? I never saw that bumper sticker before. Look at that poor dog. Oh, he must belong to Leash Lady!

Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing ever fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious. ~ Peter Heller, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Hit the trail. Walk or bike, either way, see what the woods or a desert pathway can do to stimulate your senses. Close your eyes (once you’re off your bike!). Perk your ears. Suck in a chest full of that fresh air. Watch for critters or signs of their presence. What natural magic do you find?

None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze. ~ Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Park it. Take a blanket for flexibility or pick a park bench. Watch kids play. Listen to random bits of phone conversations as people pass. What’s the status of the remaining wildlife here? Are the squirrels timid or cheeky? How do the birds behave? What are they pecking at? Is that . . . ooo, I smell popcorn. (This is fortuitous since you’ve already snarfed down Snack 1 and Snack 2, haven’t you?)

Fewer and fewer people are raised outside of cities as the decades progress. Nature is sometimes not available for generations of children. Sad state of affairs. ~ Efrat Cybulkiewicz

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

22 Wishes for You in 2022

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Happier , healthier New Year to you!

Here are my 22 wishes for you in 2022, my little raspberry torte:

1. May your socks be like the macaroni penguin and mate for life.

2. May you identify the healthiest combination of foods for you and feel no need to mention it (in detail) to anyone with ears at every single meal.

3. May your inner critic become so utterly self-obsessed she ignores you.

4. May you find satisfaction in small accomplishments.

5. May your whole wheat toast land cheeseburger side up.

6. May you recall names, passwords and punchlines with equal ease.

7. May your To Do List be deposed as your daily dictator.

8. May you be the hero for posing the question everyone else is too afraid to ask.

9. May you roll with interruptions like Tina Turner on a river.

10. May you acquire the patience of a Zen oyster.

11. May you come to relish wrinkles as face garnish.

12. May you judge others as often as you would have them judge you.

13. May you laugh before Noon daily, even if it’s at yourself.

14. May grace be your new brand standard.

15. May you binge watch squirrels on the weekends (and bonus points if they return the favor).

16. May you never dream you’re eating marshmallows and wake to find your earplugs missing.

17. May you be known as an entrepreneurial expert for minding your own business.

18. May you acquire at least one new friend (bonus points if that friend is yourself).

19. May compliments be your first language.

20. May you create something so magical, uplifting, hilarious and poignant even you can’t believe you did it.

21. May you become a world class hugger.

22. May you realize a new level of contentment whatever your circumstances may be.

If you are a dreamer, come in,

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire

For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.

Come in!

come in!

Shel Silverstein

Triple Frog Dare You!

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By Matt Faulkner
By Matt Faulkner

Let confetti fly! Pop those crackers! Pour that bubbly! Welcome 2022!

Oh, sure. It would be customary for me to make mushy wishes on your behalf, my little cinnamon scones. Instead, I intend to be more daring–times three!

I DARE YOU to finish the manuscript (or at least the chapter?) that left you quivering in a quandarous quagmire in 2021. (Preemo alliteration, eh?)

I DOUBLE FROG DARE YOU to return to the drawing, dummy or color palette that refused to please you in 2021. Let someone else take a look. Come at it in a fresh way. Be brave and start again, if need be. Bend it to your will!

And NOW, for the coup de grace!

I TRIPLE FROG DARE YOU to move that niggling idea (you know the one–because you can still hear its incessant yammering, can’t you) and nudge it from an annoyance to something tangible–some research, a sketch, a character interview, an outline, a synopsis, a diagram, a doodle, a crappy first draft–ANYTHING that moves it from a freeloading concept plopped on the couch of your cranium to a visible “thing” squinting and squirming in the light of day. Then, go ahead and amuse your muse!

(And in case you’re wondering: I am taking myself up on my own dare. Confession: I have a novel revision I’ve been “skillfully” avoiding for TWO years by working on other projects. I pacify myself by perpetuating the limp excuse that at least I’m productive. Sure. That’s true. But have I accomplished anything from my heart (the scary, vulnerable novel writing)? Have I faced my fear of the overwhelmingnessity of this particular revision? Noop. I know avoidance is futile. Creativity-leaching. And ultimately, well, dumb. I don’t want to be dumb. 2022 is my year to face the, uh, Frog!)

What say you, my little peppermint chocolate macrons? Will you join me?

Frog on a Dime looks forward to bringing you new guest interviews, inspiration and words of encouragement. Whatever this New Year brings, take heart. We will trudge and triumph through it together.

Ever forward!

Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning
. ~ T.S. Eliot

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Frog on a Dime Turns Nine!

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cropped-frog-on-a-dime-color-red-1a.jpg
By Matt Faulkner

Can you believe it, my little well-baked sponges?

Frog on a Dime is celebrating birthday #9!

Warmest thanks to my followers, cheerleaders and dear friends who pop by for a visit. You are deeply appreciated.

Here’s to another year of affirmation, encouragement and comradery!

I wish you all outrageous success (however you define it), true joy and lily pad loads of inspiration.

No material gift can be compared to coming into the New Year with great joy in one’s heart. ~ Bamigboye Olurotimi

You Win Watercress!

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Published by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House

Many thank again to Andrea Wang for a wonderful chat about your touching picture book, WATERCRESS.

Today, I am delighted to announce that we have not three, but six winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the Frog on a Dime WATERCRESS drawing!

Ann Finkelstein

Lauri Fortino

Kathy Meister

Rebecca Van Slyke

Elizabeth Westra

Lisa Wheeler

Andrea and I both appreciated appreciated your kind words and comments. Thank you so much!

(Now, for a bit of light housekeeping!)

Winners, to ensure your picture book goes to the correct address, please send me a message via the Contact page.

If you would like your book personalized for a child or friend, please let me know that information too.

If you’d like your book sent directly to your special someone, that’s no problem. Simply provide the address. (In the U.S., please!)

I have always believed that poems beg to be read aloud, even if the reader is in a world all her own. ~ J. Patrick Lewis

Giving Thanks for Writers & Watercress – A Chat with Andrea Wang

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Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot something growing in a ditch by the side of the road…watercress!

With an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail-covered plant as they can.

At first, it’s embarrassing. Why can’t her family get food at the grocery store?

But when her mother shares the story of her family’s life in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged.

Together, they make a new memory of watercress in this tender story inspired by the author’s childhood memories and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Jason Chin.

(Description source: Jacket flap, WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang)

Author Andrea Wang

Here we are, Thanksgiving Week, and I am feeling so grateful for time to chat with my extra special guest–Andrea Wang!

Andrea is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster (APALA Honor, PW starred review) and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (JLG Gold Standard Selection, Sakura Medal, Freeman Book Award Honor, SLJ starred review). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, starred reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, PW, Horn Book); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.

Welcome, Andrea. Thank you for stopping by Frog on a Dime. I’m so excited! Let’s hop right in and talk about your latest picture book WATERCRESS . . .

I see you dedicated WATERCRESS in memory of your parents and described them as “immigrants and inspirations.” In what way did they inspire you?

It takes an enormous amount of courage to give up everyone and everything you’ve ever known to go live in a place where you don’t speak the language, all in pursuit of a better life for yourself and your family. Finally understanding the hardships and sacrifices my parents made inspired me to not only pursue my dream of writing, but also to be vulnerable and emotionally honest in my writing.

That’s beautiful.

What do you feel is gained when parents and grandparents open up to their children/grandchildren about family history and memories?

I talk about this in my Author’s Note, so I thought I’d share that part of it here: “…it’s important, too, for children to understand their family history. Perhaps if I had known about the hardships they had faced, I would have been more compassionate as a child. Maybe I would have felt more empathy and less anger. More pride in my heritage and less shame. Memories have the power to inform, to inspire, and to heal.”

Those are great insights, Andrea. Thank you.

What do you hope young readers take away? What about parents? Teachers?

I hope all readers see that, no matter where you are from or how you identify, we all share a common humanity. You may not be a child of immigrants or have had to pick food from the wild, but everyone has felt embarrassment, shame, and the feeling of not belonging. The emotions in WATERCRESS are universal. We need to be kinder to each other, to reach for understanding rather than react out of ignorance.

No surprise, next I’d like to ask a few questions on behalf of my fellow writers, okay?

How long after you wrote WATERCRESS did you feel ready to share it with anyone?

In its current form, I think I shared the manuscript with a few critique partners right after I wrote it. Mostly, I wanted to get their feedback about what they thought it was–just a poem, or could it be a picture book? They thought I should send it to my agent immediately, so that’s what I did. But it took me about eight years to write this version of WATERCRESS and I did share those previous versions with critique partners, so it was an iterative process, like writing always is.

I’m so glad you persevered–and that you listened to your critique partners!

Published by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House
ISBN-13: 978-0-8234-4624-7

What was your approach to this autobiographical story compared to previous manuscripts?

I don’t know that I’d call it an “approach,” because that sounds like I went into this project with a plan and that’s not how it was at all. The first version of this story was in the form of a personal essay for adults, which I thought would be a good format since I was using my own memories as material. But that piece didn’t really work, so I rewrote it years later as a fictional picture book. That version was from a 3rd person POV and it was better, but too long and lacking an emotional heart. Several more years later, I found the perfect mentor text (A DIFFERENT POND by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui) and revised the manuscript again, returning to 1st person POV and paring away every single word that felt extraneous, so that it came out in free verse.

Your use of spare text meant you needed to lean on the illustrator, Jason Chin, to communicate for you at times, including one of the story’s most poignant scenes. That’s a challenge for many picture book writers. How did you reach to that level of trust?

While I was writing this free-verse version of Watercress, I honestly wasn’t thinking about the illustrator or the illustrations at all. I was writing for myself, and I knew exactly what I meant by each line. I did consciously add a couple of clues (“Mom never talks about her China family,” and “Mom never told us what happened to him.”) leading up to that scene you’re referring to, so the reader is primed for the reveal. I also went back and made sure that every description in the text conveyed character, emotion, and/or setting that was necessary to the story. Everything else got pared away. I would advise PB writers to write illustration notes in their first drafts, then go back to each note and ask if it’s really necessary to the story. Does it add depth to a character, convey emotion, or establish atmosphere? Would the story and the reader suffer if the information was omitted? If not, then delete! If yes, then try to work the information into the text using vivid verbs, metaphors, and adjectives. I always aim to not have any illustration notes in my manuscripts.

Thank you, Andrea. If I’m ever brave enough to attempt another picture book, I’m going to follow your brilliant advice!

And now, one last question, this time for my curious foodie friends . . .

Do you prepare watercress now for your family?

In WATERCRESS, the family eats the vegetable stir-fried, which is how I prefer it. I don’t follow a formal recipe since it’s so simple, but this is how I make it:

Stir-fried Watercress

1-2 tsp cooking oil

1 bunch fresh watercress, rinsed and drained

1 clove garlic, sliced

salt

toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high to high heat. Add garlic and stir quickly with a spatula.

After a few seconds, add the watercress and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes, until the watercress has changed color and the stems are tender.

If the bottom of the wok runs dry, a couple of tablespoons of water can be added to keep the vegetables from scorching.

Add salt to taste and transfer to a serving dish.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy!

Andrea, thank you so much. It’s been a delight and an honor to have you as a guest today.

A Bonus Thanksgiving Surprise! Win a Copy of WATERCRESS!

As an expression of thanks, Frog on a Dime invites you to enter for a chance to win your very own personalized copy of WATERCRESS, signed by both Andrea Wang and Caldecott honoree Jason Chin.

TO ENTER, simply leave a comment below.

The names of THREE lucky winners will be drawn at Noon on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25.

The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon. ~ Paulo Coelho

Thanksgiving Surprises for You

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Thanksgiving Week 2021 is going to be extra thank-filled.

Artwork by Vicky Lorencen

Frog on a Dime will host a very special guest. I can’t wait for you to meet her!

PLUS (yes, there’s even more my little pumpkin tarts!) you will have a chance to win your own personalized copy of our guest’s amazing new picture book!

You’ll thank yourself when you hop on over to Frog on a Dime Monday, November 22.

See you then!

I want to thank you for the profound joy I’ve had in the in the thought of you. ~ Rosie Alison

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Congrats, Summer Open House Winner!

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Oh what a pleasure it is to proclaim the winner of this year’s Summer Open House giveaway drawing.

Congratulations go to Lori McElrath-Eslick! You will receive your very own, one of a kind doodle, personalized with your initials or those of someone you love.

Please send me a message with your preference and mailing address, and I will get to doodling!

Heartfelt thanks go to everyone who entered the drawing. Your comments and kindness are most appreciated. I will think of you as I doodle more curlicues, spirals and paisley patterns. I hope you will doodle away the summer too!

Doodle by Vicky Lorencen

Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. ~ Ray Bradbury

You’re Invited – Summer Open House 2021

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Doodle by Vicky Lorencen

Welcome! Welcome!

Come on in!

To taggle along with “What a Doodle Can Do for You,” I invite you to visit Frog on a Dime and enjoy taking a look around. Snoop all you like. (Yes, you can even look under the lily pads!) Read posts, check out the quote collection, the inspiration page for young writers and much more. It’s all yours to explore.

While you’re here, please leave a comment on whatever post speaks most to you.

Your comment is your ticket to entry into Frog on a Dime’s Annual (Virtual) Summer Open House giveaway!

You can win:

A swirly whirly one-of-a-kind doodle created with care by yours truly. If you choose, your doodle can be personalized with your initials or the initials of someone you love incorporated into the design.

To enter the 2021 Frog on a Dime Summer Open House Giveaway:

Simply leave a comment on any post–past or present, whatever suits your fancy!

Deadline to enter:

High Noon (EST) on Wednesday, August 11.

(And ahem, leave a comment on more than one post, and you’ll get an EXTRA chance to win!)

In spite of everything, I shall rise again; I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing. ~ Vincent Van Gogh

A strong visual imagination acts as a magnet to draw the visualised into reality. ~ Anupama Garg

What a Doodle Can Do for You

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By Vicky Lorencen

The other day I stumbled on a fun fact about presidential doodles.

(Hmm. Something about that doesn’t sound quite right.)

Let me start again.

See, I was reading this article from Harvard Health Publishing about the thinking benefits of doodling. That makes more sense, right?

And according to the article’s author Srini Pillay, MD, “Even American presidents have found themselves sketching away: 26 of 44 American Presidents doodled, from Theodore Roosevelt, who doodled animals and children, to Ronald Reagan, who doodled cowboys and football players, and John F. Kennedy, who doodled dominoes.”

Doodle by Vicky Lorencen
By Vicky Lorencen

A writer’s job doesn’t exactly involve executing laws, appointing federal officials or negotiating with Slovakia. So, why do I need to doodle? For me, doodling is a way to get out of my own way. If I’m writing and get stuck (more like, “when” I get stuck), I pause and pick up a pen. Mindlessly making swirls and random, unpredictable designs is a practice that calms me. It provides a chance to hush my harsh inner critic because doodling has no right or wrong. It just do.

Doodling can helps me puzzle out a plot predicament or conjure a more fitting name for a character I’ve become better acquainted with. It keeps the gnarly wheels in my noggin’ cranking, but in a more productive way versus self-sabotage.

Doodling can also be a delightful way to douse stress. Allowing yourself to get lost in an in-the-moment design can relieve tension by putting a distance between you and fret. Worries about your writing and whether you can move ahead are nudged to the margin while you push that pen. You can return to your project mentally replenished.

My Little Strawberry Rhubarb Tart, if you’ve never tried doodling as a companion to your creative process, I encourage you to give it a try. The only way you can go wrong is to think about what you are doodling whilst you do it. Pretend you’re giving the paper a side glance. It’s just there to catch the ink. And you don’t have to use fancy paper or snazzy pens. (If you take a look at the doodle below, you’ll notice I did it on nothing-fancy notebook paper.) You don’t have to worry about composition, what color to use or creating “art.” Just free your pen and the mental rest will follow.

Want to delve deeper into doodling?

Learn more about the benefits of doodling from Monica Harris, The Doodling Duchess.

By Vicky Lorencen

She drew the things that stuck to her mind, the things that caught her attention and, specially, the things she wasn’t capable of understanding fully. But she hadn’t even realized it. Art had become her way of processing reality. ~ Zoe Haslie

Everybody has inner creativity that has been lost amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The small part of us that provides balance and calm, and releases our creative side, is smothered and in risk of dying completely. ~ Lana Karr