Posted in Creativity, Uncategorized

When You Get on a Writing Roll

I’m taking a quick break from drafting to check in with you today. Yes, you heard me right. I’m drafting… and I’m on a roll!! I’ve written over 3,000 words since yesterday. It may not sound like much, but after having a hard time getting my head into this story, it’s BIG for me! I’ll get to at least 20,000 words by the end of this week—close to the 1/3 way mark. Yay!

Being on a writing roll is crazy. I don’t know about you, but for me I literally live and breathe the story when it happens to me. The characters sort of hover in my head. It’s almost like they’re floating above it. I see them laughing or fighting and can almost hear their banter. Images of the setting flash around in my head too like I’m scrolling through pictures on my phone. But all the while, I’m forcing myself to be cruel to these crazy kids, to come up with obstacles that can trip my them up and trip them up hard. It’s a lot to think about even when I’m not sitting down at the computer.

It’s hard to think about other things while a story is taking shape in your mind. Sure you can go about the mundane daily tasks of your life, but your story is never far away. Cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry are easy because you can think about plot while you’re doing those. The best ideas come while our minds are free to wander. Work isn’t even the biggest challenge for most of us while in draft mode either because then we’re forced to switch gears and focus on something else completely.

The biggest challenge I personally have when drafting is when people want to talk to me. Like in person or on the phone. Sometimes I feel like a character in a Peanuts cartoon. Their voices get all swirly and mushy and I can barely listen to what they have to say. And I can’t believe they don’t understand why I can’t focus on what they’re saying or why I don’t want to continue a long winded conversation. I’m creating a whole story in my head. That takes a lot of creative brainwork. Don’t they get it??

Of course, they don’t. Unless they’ve written a book too, they simply can’t understand what it feels like on a daily basis to be on a writing roll, to be crafting a story from start to finish.

I’ve gotten calls from my mom lately asking if I’m alright. She wonders why I haven’t been chatty lately, because it seems like something’s wrong. And I have to tell her, “Nothing is wrong. I’ve just had a lot on my mind. I’m in the middle of drafting a new story and it’s kind of all consuming right now.”

I cringe as I write that because that makes me sound like a work- a-holic or someone who doesn’t have a good work-life-home balance. But maybe I don’t. At least not when I’m on a writing roll anyway. But being on a roll is amazing. The ideas come quickly and furiously. The characters become human. They make choices. The conflict develops  and the stakes can be felt clearly. But most of all, being on a roll means that words are appearing on the pages that used to be white—so blank.

So I’ll enjoy being on this writing roll while it lasts. With a little luck—and the ability to keep other distractions at bay, the words will keep coming. And I hope they keep coming for you too.

Do you have any thoughts on drafting? I bet your experience is a little like mine, but in some ways very different. Please share! We’d love to know what it’s like for you. They say writing loves company…well actually no one says that but maybe they should because writers do love company!

Have a fantastic week, my friends! I’ll check in with you again soon. 🙂

Jackie

Posted in Creativity, Uncategorized

SKIT MIXERS Is Here!

Hi Guys!

I’m so excited to announce the arrival of the newest Creative Kids Activity Kit

Skit Mixers Activity Kit-cover page

This kit has been two years in the making…well seven actually if you count the years I spent testing the original prototype. This project has been my baby, the project closest to my heart (with the exception of my middle grade manuscript), and I’m thrilled to finally see it out in the world where kids from all over will be able to enjoy it!

So what is it exactly?

Skit Mixers Activity Kit- Decription Page

For more details on the kit and how it works, click on the SKIT MIXERS ACTIVITY KIT page. I hope you see it like I do…a fantastic activity for creative kids that promotes teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving- all in a unique and extremely fun way! I have seriously watched dozens of kids use it over the last seven years. Some have been kids on my Odyssey of the Mind teams and some have been friends of my own kids or kids who live in the neighborhood. All of them have loved creating crazy skits and showing them off to whoever will watch.

I hope you’ll help me share it with the world… I hope you’ll tell your friends to give it a try, tell your relatives who may have kids to give it a try, and especially have your own kids give it a try. If they love hanging out with their friends and being creative in any way, they’ll love creating hundreds of different skits and showing them off to you. Sure kids like watching TV and playing video games, but when they’re given materials to fuel their creative fire, that imaginative spark is sure to ignite!

Thanks, my friends for stopping by the site today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Like I said, I’ve been working on it for quite some time and I’d love to know if a tween that you know loves it as much as I do!

Have a fantastic week, everyone! I hope to chat with you soon!

Jackie

 

Posted in Creativity, Uncategorized

Creative Outlets

Hey guys!

I’m so sorry I missed posting last week, but I wasn’t actually that far from swirl and spark anyway. I was really busy getting the latest creation up on the site! For those of you watching closely, you may have seen it. 🙂 For the rest of my curious friends, click here.

I’ve been dying to write this post for weeks, to tell you all about it and explain what I’ve been up to besides drafting book 2 of my middle grade series. But since I had no firm launch date of this latest non-book project , I decided to wait until I knew all the pieces were going to fall into place. Now that they have, I can explain…

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of making activity kits for creative type kids for awhile. Some of the activities have taken shape more quickly than others (in both my head and on my laptop), but all of them have been a part of me for the better part of the last few years. If you’re a creative person (like I know most of you are) you probably know exactly what that feels like—to have an idea simmering hotter and hotter until that crazy boiling water overflows. Well finally the ideas for these activities overflowed and started to come together in my mind.

As many of you know, I coached Odyssey of the Mind for years. Well, I guess I loved watching kids creatively solve problems a little more than I realized, because now that I’m no longer coaching my own team, I’ve been determined to create ways for kids who don’t participate in programs like that to develop their own problem solving skills like brainstorming and creative thinking. And so now I can tell you all about my most current creative outlet besides writing: I’m developing a series of Creative Kids Activity Kits.

There are three activity kits in all and they each focus on important themes for kids like teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving in a fun and challenging way. The first kit went up on the site last week! It’s called the Team Challenge Birthday Party Kit and is the most specific of all the kits because obviously it’s designed to be used in a party type setting. The other kits will be available soon and are designed more generally—for any time use. More details on those  will be coming soon, but for now, if you or anyone you know has young kids who may be looking for a fun and different way to celebrate their birthday with their friends, the Team Challenge Birthday Party Kit might be it.

As a parent of two kids and the host of too many to count home birthday parties, I can tell you that hosting your own party doesn’t have to be overwhelming—not if you’re prepared and have great activities planned. Through the years, I’ve hosted spa parties, princess parties, mystery parties, scavenger hunts, super hero parties, movie set parties, and team challenge parties. The team challenge parties were always the biggest hit with both boys and girls probably because they were so different from anything else they had done at other parties, and because kids really are competitive, especially when they get to be creative!

If you’re so inclined, take a peek at it. I’d love to know what you think, and if you know of a parent who might be interested in using it, please feel free to direct them to the site.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. How about you? And while we’re on the subject of creativity, besides writing, what other things do you do to energize your creative self? Do you dance, crochet, paint, decorate your house…or does writing take up all of your creativity? I’d love to know!

It feels great to check in with all of you. I’ve missed you. 🙂 I hope you’re having a great day. I’ll be sure to check in with you again soon!

 

Jackie ❤

Posted in Creativity, Publishing

4 Signs You May Not Fit the Writer Stereotype

We all have questions and doubts when it comes to our writing life. Am I a good enough writer? Is my story any good at all? How do I know if I’m cut out to be a writer anyway?  The list of doubts goes on.

We all have moments of reflection too… moments when we wonder if we should continue on our quest to become a published writer, ponder if we have what it takes to stay in it for the long hall. And in doing so, we think about the successful writers—authors like JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins who have become household names. But we may also think about our writing friends who’ve gotten published already, the ones who are not quite yet a household name but have made this writing thing a job. Some we may know personally, some we may know merely through Twitter or some other form of social media. The more we engage with these other writers, the ones who have made careers of putting pen to paper and spinning words into gold, we can’t help but hear or read about the ways they do things—the way they work, the way they write, the schedule they keep, etc.

And we are fascinated by it.

Mostly I think because we believe that any time we read something about a real writer, we’ll learn something, anything that will pull back the curtain on all that is the mystery of getting published. If we know their routines, we may be able to imitate them and perhaps that will lead to publication for us too.

But what happens when we learn something about a published writer and realize (without a doubt) that what they do is something we may never do. Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s just not us?

In thinking about this topic for quite sometime now, I’ve come to realize that writers, like those in any other profession, have a certain stereotypical look or some stereotypical behaviors. The problem for me is this.

I don’t fit the writer stereotype.

Like, at all.

First, I don’t wear pajamas (or even sweatpants) all day when I write. My hair is not thrown up in a messy bun. And I don’t wear glasses. I don’t skip showering before writing either. Like ever.

In fact, every day of my life (without fail) I get up and shower before I do anything else. Then I get dressed, put on my contacts, do my hair, and do my make up before I start writing, even if I have no plans to leave the house or see another human being all day. Call me crazy, and maybe it’s because of my background in teaching and in sales, but I feel more productive and ready to take on the world when I look the part.

Second, I don’t drink endless cups of coffee while I write. I drink a cup of tea most every morning and a chai latte in the afternoon. But I do that whether I’m writing or not. Sometimes I’ll sit down with one or the other (or even with a cup of highly sugared iced coffee) as a coincidence, but I don’t drink it for hours to make the time spent with my manuscript more productive.

Third, I’m not a book worm. I don’t love reading above all else. I didn’t grow up with my nose buried in a book. I almost feel ashamed for admitting this. Sure, I like reading. I love reading books in the age group that I write in, I like reading YA books when I find a fabulous one. I like reading motivational books and an occasional grown up book too. But I don’t think about books all day long. (Except the one I’m writing). I enjoy reading and it is part of my daily routine, but it’s not the first thing I would do on a day off. Books are important to me, but being creative is even more important. I’d rather spend an entire day daydreaming about my next project or invention. I think that’s one of the reason’s why I write. Ideas are constantly spinning in my mind (to a point of frustration) and I will never act on most of them. But my characters can! I may not invent the next big thing, but the next big thing may just pop up in one of my books!

Fourth, I’m not an introvert. Well not all the time. I definitely like my alone time. That’s when I’m at my most creative.  And I don’t really love hanging out with giant groups of people. But once I’ve had enough alone time, I do love being with people and interacting with them.  In fact, I’ll probably talk your ear off if we ever meet in person! A night out with friends (old or new) or a lunch date with my college roommate or a dinner with my husband or whole extended family is definitely my thing. Many writers I know would prefer to exist in their own world and don’t love interacting much with people. They let their words do the talking, and that’s okay too.

It used to scare me quite honestly. I used to panic thinking, well obviously I will never become real writer because I hate hanging out all day in my pajamas. But then I snapped out of my making excuses trance and realized it doesn’t matter at all.

Stereotypes in most case are ridiculous anyway, right? So if you’re doubting your abilities to do this writing thing just because you haven’t read all the classic literature ever published, if you only read the Cliff Notes to the Scarlett Letter in high school and really didn’t love Jane Eyre (I know, I’m sorry!!) just don’t. Don’t doubt yourself at all. Writers come in all shapes and sizes—coffee drinker or not. How else would we get all these amazing stories? If we were all the same, our stories would all be the same and how awful would that be? No thanks!

I’ll take my tea with extra sweet cream. I’ll dress up when I write if for only my own benefit. I’ll go running instead of reading if the sun is shining. I’ll spend time I should be writing thinking up inventions that make no sense. I may even re-read Jane Eyre one day to see what all the fuss is about. Because that’s me. But rest assured, on the nights I stay up late to add a new invention to my latest middle grade scene, I may even throw my hair up in a messy bun. Hey, at ten o’clock at night even the most neurotic girl needs to change into comfy clothes and get down to business! How else will those words get spun into gold?

What about you? Do you fit into the writer stereotypes? Do you think they exist at all? Maybe they only exist in my mind. Stranger things have happened there, ya know? What do you think? Throw me a comment. You know how much I love notes!

Have a great week, Guys! Now go get dressed…and brush your hair or something. Maybe you’ll be more productive. 🙂

Jackie

Posted in Creativity, Odyssey of the Mind

The Climb

Hello Again!

I’m back….and I have to tell you that I’ve really missed this blog! My Blog Break turned out to be a week longer than I had planned. To those of you that stopped by, I’m sorry you were left in the blog darkness. I didn’t mean to leave you there with an empty pit in your stomach waiting to read my writing words of wisdom…

Okay, so I know it really wasn’t like that. I’m sure no one’s day was left empty because I didn’t write my Wednesday post. In truth, I was sad that I didn’t post. After connecting with all of you every Wednesday for the last 8 months, it just felt weird. Very weird.

It’s always good to take a break though. Especially with a story you’ve written. I proved that to myself again this week because during my Blog Break, I was incredibly busy with other things. But now I feel refreshed and ready to dive back into blogging…and writing.

Before I do though, because I promised, I’ll tell you a little bit about my break over the last two weeks…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my Odyssey of the Mind team had their first competition coming up. The kids on my team had been working incredibly hard since September on a problem they chose to solve. You can read more about that in my earlier post. (One day I’ll learn how to link up my earlier posts so that you can find them without scrolling back through each one. Not today though!) Anyway, the last two weeks have been crunch time—time spent putting finishing touches on costumes and sets, filling out required paperwork, rehearsing and practicing spontaneous problems.

I love this time of year because you can feel the energy practically oozing from the kids.  Besides, I love seeing their creative ideas come to life and I love seeing the pride in their faces when they see what they’ve accomplished.  I promised you an update on how the competition day went, so here it is…

Last Saturday, my sleepy team met at my house at 5:30am and off we went armed with a truck load of sets, props, costumes and very little sleep to a school district across town where the competition was held.  After arriving at the site before the doors were even unlocked, the kids unloaded it all, set everything up, changed into costumes, and practiced one time before they were set to compete at 8:00am in front of family, friends, teachers and judges.

And boy did they perform! They performed on that high school stage better than they ever had in practice. They were loud. They were clear. They were funny. Their set looked bright and big. Their costumes looked colorful and adorable. Their moving set piece worked on cue. They remembered every line. Their finale dance was a crowd pleaser. These 5 kids were amazing. And I was so very proud.

Most importantly though, my team was proud of themselves. They had worked months to create a solution to a problem and present it in the form of a play. And that’s what they did. But that was only the first part of the competition. The next part was still to come…

After posing for pictures, the kids changed into their school Odyssey of the Mind t-shirts with their signature long sleeve white shirts and jeans. We headed over to the elementary school for the spontaneous portion of the competition. The kids were led into a classroom with a team of judges and given a problem to solve on the spot. It may have been a verbal question or it may have been a hands- on (building type) problem, or even a combination of both.

I don’t know what their question was. They are sworn to secrecy until all the regional competitions are over at the end of the month. I do know this though. My team went into that room pumped and ready to solve that problem with more creativity than they ever had before. Fifteen minutes later, they exited that room with faces that revealed exactly the opposite. I knew they couldn’t tell me what the problem was. But as I’ve asked them in competition so many times over the last five years, “Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Somewhere in the middle?”   

They barely gave a thumb in the middle. They didn’t smile. Their faces were white and blank. My heart sunk to my feet. I’m certain theirs had sunk there too.

I’m not sure why they thought they had done so poorly. All they could manage to tell me was, “It was really hard.”

As I said before, my team is not new to this competition. After five years at the regional competition, three trips to the state competition and one unforgettable trip to the World Finals, they’ve been given countless spontaneous problems in competition. They have a good feel for when they do well, and a good feel for when they don’t.

With hours to go until the award ceremony, we did what any great team does. We reflected about how much fun it was to work on their solution throughout the year, and how awesome it was to perform on that beautiful, brand new stage. We talked about how proud I was of them for all their creative ideas, hard work, teamwork, and I thanked them for letting me be a part of it.

And then came the most fun of all…We watched teams who were still competing. We watched performances by high school teams that were inspiring. Maybe some of them might someday be on Broadway! We watched little kids drive hand-made cars through team- created obstacles. We watched judges place weights on structures that teams had spent months building.

It was a great reminder to me that when kids are allowed to be creative, they can create amazing things!

Finally, it was time for the awards ceremony. The focus of this competition is not on winning, yet ribbons and trophies for 1st– 5th place are given. Only teams that place first will advance to the next level: the State Competition.The kids were nervous. I knew why. For the last three years in a row, they had advanced to the NY State Competition. They were worried about their spontaneous score.  I was too. But maybe, just maybe it wasn’t as bad as they thought.

I realized at that awards ceremony, that I’m a competitive person. So are the kids on my team.  They wanted to win. They wanted to compete at the next level –to have another shot at the World Finals. After all their hard work, I wanted them to have another chance to perform for their families and the judges.  I wanted to see them in their adorable costumes and watch their finale dance.

But this year, that wasn’t meant to be. They came in second place.

Second. So close. An incredible accomplishment. I knew that. They knew that. Yet it wasn’t what they wanted.  And it was heartbreaking to watch. Disappointment is a hard thing to hide, especially in front of a lot of people. Yet they managed to do that with style. They ran down the bleacher steps to accept their ribbons and trophy. My son Adam even did a cartwheel across the gym floor on the way back-to the applause of hundreds of kids and parents and judges. They displayed tremendous sportsmanship, congratulating other teams who were moving on to States.

It turns out that Spontaneous is not entirely what caused my team to come in second place. Their scores showed they did a great job in that section. But another team did better. And another team did better in the long term solution performance. That left us in second place overall and even though it’s not first, it’s still a fantastic place to be!

And so during my Blog Break, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs by vintage Miley Cyrus….The Climb.  I guess if you write your story solely to get it published, you may be disappointed if you can’t reach that point. But if you write because you love to write, because you love the process–the whole journey of the thing, then you’ll never be disappointed.     

I hope all my Odyssey team members and all my writer friends can remember that too. If you create something just to win, you may be disappointed, but if you create something because you love to create- whether it’s songs or stories or sets or costumes, you’ll never be disappointed to see your amazing results.

And so that’s our Odyssey story, and here’s a bit of The Climb….

For Adam, Kara, Jake, Julia and Ryan~ the creative kids who inspire me 🙂

There’s always gonna be another mountain,

I’m always gonna want to make it move.

It’s always gonna be an uphill battle,

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.

 

Ain’t about how fast I get there.

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side…

It’s the Climb.  

 

The struggles I’m facing,

The chances I’m taking,

Sometimes might knock me down but,

No, I’m not breaking.

 

I may not know it

But these are the moments

That I’m gonna remember most,

Just got to keep going

And I got to be strong

Just keep pushing on,

 

There’s always gonna be another mountain,

I’m always gonna want to make it move.

It’s always gonna be an uphill battle,

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.

 

Ain’t about how fast I get there.

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side…

It’s the Climb.  

 

Posted in Creativity, Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind

This week, instead of focusing on my writing, my mind has been preoccupied with something else. As some of you may have read in the Author tab on this site, in some of my free time, I coach an Odyssey of the Mind team. Odyssey of the Mind is an international, educational program that provides problem solving opportunities for kids from kindergarten through college. Kids work in teams solving problems that range from building a vehicle, or a machine, to creating a structure that holds weight, to performing a new version of a literary classic or performing an original, humorous play. Thousands of teams from across the United States and about 25 other countries work on their projects and then showcase their solutions in regional, state and worldwide competitions!

In all categories, kids must work together to solve the problem as creatively as they can, within a fixed budget and with absolutely no outside help from parents, teachers or other kids. The team learns to rely on each other because they really are all they have!  Coaches (like me) can only offer support and ask questions of the kids that will encourage creative thinking.

I’ve coached for seven years now, first working with my daughter, Danielle’s team and now with my son, Adam’s team. The majority of Adam’s team has been together for five years. This year’s team is a group of five kids- four eighth graders (Adam, Julia, Jake, and Kara) and one sixth grader (Ryan) – each very different, but all very creative in their own way! This year, they’ve chosen a really cool problem. Teams are to create and present an original performance about a community that feels threatened by something in a location it has never visited. The community townspeople will use a creative method to select one or more travelers to visit and explore the location. While at the location, a traveler will use a means of communication to send a message home to convince the community that there is nothing to fear. The performance will also include a narrator character, two rhymes about the travels, and a moving set piece.

The team must create all their own costumes, props, sets and write their own script, without any input from me or anyone else! As you can probably guess, solving the problem takes months of work. Sometimes it’s fun. Many times it’s frustrating. Always it’s amazing for these kids to see the ideas they’ve had swirling around for days and weeks, finally turn into a massive spark! That ah-ha moment when it all comes together into a solution they’re excited about is incredible…for them and for me!

This week in Upstate, NY it’s crunch time for many Odyssey of the Mind teams. Regional competitions are happening all over the area right now. Our region in particular competes a few weeks from now. That means that my team is busy putting finishing touches on their project, rehearsing their performance and practicing spontaneous problems they’ll solve on the day of the competition. It has been exciting to watch the kids interact, brainstorm ideas, overcome personality differences, fix problems with their set that have literally crashed to the ground, and finally solve their problem in an extremely creative way!

So that’s where my mind has been lately. It’s crunch time for my team and I am definitely feeling it! I’m sure any writer or artist or athlete or breathing person can relate to the nerves and excitement an upcoming deadline or book release or competition can bring!  

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my inspiring team. They motivate me every time they get together.  As a creative person, I live to see any tiny, vague idea, grow into an actual thing that you can see and hear and touch. Maybe I’ll even post pictures when all is said and done! Until then, I’m off to make some snacks because the crew will be over any minute and creative minds need nourishment…or that’s what they tell me anyway. All the time!