Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peter Catalanotto: Creativity is Messy

In my notebooks I write but I also sketch, because I think with pictures. Actually, half the people in our country think with pictures. If writing is frustrating for you, try drawing your ideas first--then when you write, you're simply describing your pictures!

When writing in my notebook it's important for me to write down imaginary thoughts as well as real ones because most of the ideas for my stories are a combination of my real life and my imagination. No matter how strange or silly a story is, it usually starts with something true from the writer's life. For instance, in my alphabet book, MATTHEW ABC, a teacher has 25 kids in her class and they're all named Matthew. The idea came from the fact that when I was in kindergarten there were two kids in my class named Peter. I was Peter C., the other boy was Peter S. I simply exaggerated real life to create a story!

Try this: the next time something happens in your life that disappoints you or makes you sad, write about it in your notebook--writing often helps us understand our feelings and things that happen to us. Then when you feel better, write what could have happened instead; what you wish happened!

Before I create a picture in a book, I sketch in my notebook how I want the picture to look. Here's a sketch from my book MORE OF MONKEY & ROBOT.

Click to Enlarge this Image

I never use my first ideas when I write and draw. First ideas are not very good. Writers and artists need to find their best ideas! Writing and drawing is exploring ideas. Even though your first draft or sketch isn't the best, don't throw it away! Look at it so you can see how to make it better!

Some ideas in my notebooks are for stories, like these notes for my book EMILY'S ART, and some things are just for fun because I love to sketch.

Click to Enlarge this Image

Remember, creativity is messy. A notebook is a great place to keep your mess! Have fun!

Peter Catalanotto grew up in East Northport, New York. He has illustrated 47 books for children, 17 of which he wrote. Peter has visited over 1600 schools in 40 states. In 2008, he was commissioned by the First Lady to paint the White House holiday brochure and currently teaches the first children’s book writing class offered at Columbia University and his alma mater; Pratt Institute. For more information go to:

Much gratitude to Peter himself for offering signed book giveaways to two commenters on this post.  One will win MONKEY AND ROBOT and the other will win Peter's newest book, THE NEWBIES.  Please leave your comment by to be entered into this drawing.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Congratulations to Linda Booth Sweeney!

Congratulations to Linda Booth Sweeney, winner of K.A. Holt's wonderful new book, HOUSE ARREST.  Linda, please send me a message with your snail mail address, and I will send it along to Chronicle.

Everyone - please don't miss K.A.'s great about her many kinds of notebooks and an idea to try too!  You can find it HERE.  Thank you so much, K.A. for giving us this peek.  And thank you to Chronicle Books for the generous donation of HOUSE ARREST.

Our next poster will be author and  illustrator Peter Catalanotto, and I am tickled to be able to showcase his notebooks here...later today!

Please know that I welcome writers, artists, notebook keepers of all ages, stripes, professions, and interests here on this notebook-celebration-blog.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in sharing in this space, please simply drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com.

Happy almost Thanksgiving!  I am thankful to be part of this community.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

K.A. Holt: The Satisfaction of Jotting


They are the genesis of any book I write (and the format of my two most recent books). At least one notebook is in my bag wherever I go. I have them on my desk. I have them in the kitchen. They are in the living room on the little table by the lamp. There is one for poetry I write when I travel,

one for poetry I write at home, and one suction-cupped to the wall in my shower (for real). Every manuscript I work on has at least one notebook dedicated to it.

And, lo! When it is school supply buying season, my cart is so filled with spiral notebooks it is almost (almost) embarrassing.

I use notebooks to brainstorm, to organize, and often to actually write parts of my first drafts. Then, once my draft is finished and I’m on to revisions, I use a notebook to keep track of plot threads.

I have pages that serve as repositories for sticky notes so that I can really see my progress towards the finish line.

It probably wouldn’t be possible for me to write a book without notebooks. They are an extension of my brain and they offer freedom that I can’t seem to find in a blank computer screen. This is a discovery Timothy makes in my newest book HOUSE ARREST.

In HOUSE ARREST, Timothy is court ordered to keep a journal and he thinks it’s a terrible idea. But as he gets used to writing little notes and ideas he begins to discover his voice. Soon, Timothy can’t imagine not having his notebook. It gives him an outlet, and he realizes that sometimes it’s much easier to write your feelings than it is to say them out loud.

In my book RHYME SCHEMER, Kevin’s notebook is a little different.

He uses it to write ideas and thoughts, too, but he also uses it to write poems. And not just typical poems. Kevin takes pages from books that have already been written, and he uses those words to make little poems of his own. At first he doesn’t even realize it’s poetry. It’s just a way for him to use his notebook to express himself. He knows that the things he writes don’t have to be perfect, they’re just interesting ideas that tickle his brain.

In a notebook you have the satisfaction of jotting down an idea and then slashing through it when it’s terrible. BUT, even with that slash it’s not gone. So maybe when you get to your third draft, your fourth, your fifth, when you finally know your main character and what he or she is after, you can flip through your notes, see the slashed through idea and think, “Wait a second now… maybe if I just do this [another note is added with an arrow pointing to the first one] then everything will work just right!” There is something glorious in the permanence of notes in a notebook, even the slashed through ones.

Several months ago, I was alerted to a crowd-funding site where someone is creating a notebook that will send your notes into the cloud. But wait… there’s more! You can also microwave it once it’s filled with notes, so that you can start all over again after you upload everything. Of course I ordered one just to test it out, but I will admit I’m skeptical. Even if the microwaving works, and I could just use one notebook forever, I don’t know if notes in the cloud are going to cut it. I need to see my scribbles. I need to feel the pages. I need the visceral experience of words on a page.

Plus, how could I ever microwave away the little messages I find? With so many notebooks around the house, my kids know exactly where to find me.

Want to try something fun with your notebook? Find a magazine or newspaper, some scissors, glue, and a black marker. Rip or cut a page from the magazine or newspaper and glue it into your notebook. Then, take your black marker and circle the coolest words on the page. You can try to make a sentence with the cool words, but you don’t have to. Once they’re circled, use the black marker to color over all the other words. Bam! Look at the awesome poem you just made!

K.A. Holt is the author of several books for young people, including the new middle grade verse novel HOUSE ARREST, and RHYME SCHEMER, a Bank Street Best Book of 2014 and an Amazon Best Book for Kids and Teens. She lives in Austin, TX and eats a lot of tacos.  You can find her online HERE.  If you'd like to see inside of K.A. Holt's studio, you can do so HERE at All the Wonders.

Thank you to Chronicle Books for donating a copy of  K.A.' new book, HOUSE ARREST, to a commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Tuesday, November 17 to be entered to win.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Congratulations to Book Winner Linda Baie!

Congratulations to Linda Baie, winner of Jeff Anderson's debut middle grade novel, ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH.  Linda, please send me a message with your snail mail address, and I will send it along to Sterling Books.

Everyone - please don't miss Jeff's cool post about how he uses project journals.  You can find it HERE.  Thank you tons, Jeff, for opening your notebooks for all of us.  And much gratitude to Sterling Books for the giveaway.

Our next poster will be author K.A. Holt, sharing with us the satisfaction of jotting.  Stay tuned until tomorrow!

Please know that I welcome writers, artists, notebook keepers of all ages, stripes, professions, and interests here on this notebook-celebration-blog.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in sharing in this space, please simply drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com.

Warm wishes!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jeff Anderson: The Project Journal

A Book with a Bank


Charles Darwin inspired the journal strategy I am sharing. How did this evolve you ask? While reading CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWINS' LEAP OF FAITH by Deborah Hieligman, I learned that Darwin’s brain over connected and was over stimulated and often got quite cluttered. Enter Charles Darwin’s solution: alphabet journals—an A journal dedicated to things beginning with the letter A, and a B journal for things pertaining to the letter B and so on. Categorization. The brain loves categories, groups, and classification.

For me, Charles Darwin’s idea evolved into keeping project journals.

Like A Bank

To the point my Zack Delacruz Journal is a Zack Delacruz bank. Since my debut middle-grade humor novel, ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH, is the first in a series, I needed a project journal for all things Zack—a Zack Delacruz bank. This project journal became a bank in which I deposited ideas—notes made on gum wrappers, Post-its, or any writable surface I could scrounge up in the wild of the world. To complete the deposit, I tape it into the project journal.

I’ve already finished book two in the Zack Delacruz series (Look for it in the fall of 2016). Now, I am working on book three, collecting and making as many deposits as possible. Later, withdrawls from the ideas the bank will help me add humor and natural textures from real life, which is essential for realistic fiction.

Lately, I’ve begun calling my Zack Delacruz project journal a Zank—short for Zack Bank. That’s right, Zank.

Notes Taped Into My Journal 
(Deposits in my Zank)

Lots of Tape and Post-Its

While drafting this book, I took paper and pen to one of my favorite restaurants, Chris Madrid's, and took notes on everything because I used it as a setting for a scene in ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH. Below, you can see illustrator Andrea Miller's interpretation of the scene.

Interior Illustration

Stories need drama and character changes to be interesting. As a former sixth grade teacher, I deposited voices and situations into my project journal. Andrea interpreted those voices and situations into illustrations like the one you see below.  A book has a long journey, from project journal to many drafts, to final draft, to illustrator, designer and completed book.

Interior Illustration

Make a Project Journal

Is there a book you want to write? Maybe you find yourself writing about a particular topic all the time--a friendship or pet or interest? Or maybe you want to start writing about a topic. Do it. Make a project journal for anything that’s worth its own journal to you. Pick a journal that’s right for your subject: Is it short and compact or a long and winding road? Small, large, lined? It’s all yours to decide.

Don’t Forget the Pen

When you go out into the big wide world of wonder, don’t forget to bring something to write with. It may ruin a few pairs of pants, jackets, or shirts, but the collection of ideas will be worth it. When you see something of interest you want to remember or that MIGHT be a deposit in your bank, scrounge for a writing surface, scratch down your thought or observation, and when you arrive at home, tape it your new bank. Make a funny name for it, like Zank, and it will be even more fun.

Me & a Few of My Project Journals

Jeff, a full-time staff developer and writer, shares strategies from his books MECHANICALLY INCLINED, EVERYDAY EDITING, 10 THINGS EVERY WRITER NEEDS TO KNOW, and REVISION DECISIONS with teachers around the United States and beyond. ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH is his first humorous middle grade novel. Right now he enjoys talking to students about this new series.

See a fun book trailer for ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH by Georgia librarian, Kristen Deuchle HERE.

Follow Jeff on twitter @writeguyjeff
Find Jeff on the web -

Buy a copy of ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH at your local bookstore or go HERE for a link!

Much gratitude to Sterling Publishing  for offering a giveaway of Jeff's new book, ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH to a commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, November 1 to be entered into this drawing.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Congratulations to Linda Kulp Trout!

Congratulations to Linda Kulp Trout, winner of this month's giveaway of Cynthia Grady's beautiful book, I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY.  Linda, please send me a message with your snail mail address, and I will send it along to Cynthia.

Everyone - please don't miss Cynthia's inspiring post about how she uses notebooks in her artistic life.  You can find it here.  Thank you so much, Cynthia, for sharing your words and art and this book with us all.

Our next poster will be author of professional books and books for children, Write Guy Jeff Anderson.  'Can't wait

Please know that I welcome writers, artists, notebook keepers of all ages, stripes, professions, and interests here on this notebook-celebration-blog.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in sharing in this space, please simply drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com.

Warm wishes!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cynthia Grady: Notebooks in My Sock Drawer

I’ve been a notebook buyer since I was very young, and could spend my weekly allowance at Jolly Five & Ten, while our father did the grocery shopping. I liked to buy small 4-inch notebooks in different colors —but here’s the thing, I never wrote in them. I didn’t want to spoil them! So, they sat in my sock drawer, waiting for me. For years I did this. When I wrote, I wrote on binder paper—loose-leaf, not a bound notebook. Something about writing in a book, whether diary, journal, or sketchbook, terrified me.

While I still write on loose sheets of paper and yellow pads, I’ve lately been trying to keep my poems and other writing ideas in notebooks. I keep different kinds of notebooks, but that sounds more organized than it is. Most of them are a jumble of all kinds of written things. I have one notebook just for words and phrases I like. It’s a journalist’s notebook with unlined pages that a reporter-friend gave to me.

I keep a lined pad of paper beside me when I’m reading—sometimes it has white sheets and sometimes yellow. In it I jot down every phrase, image, or sentence that I love as I’m reading a given book. I do this with almost every novel I read. Here is a page I kept while reading ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond.

When I’m researching a book of my own that I’m writing, I tend to keep my notes in composition books because they feel like school to me. Here is the notebook I used for a picture book biography coming out in 2017. I first began the research for it in 2006!

For my first book I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY, I used several notebooks, a binder, and pads of yellow paper. I was making a quilt, researching slavery, and writing the poems, all at the same time. This is how I did it: I picked quilt block patterns that sounded like there could be a connection to slavery—for example, Log Cabin or Cotton Boll. I drew up the pattern I’d use to sew the quilt block, and then asked all kinds of questions about it. I’d generate 30-50 questions for each quilt block. After that I’d start composing the poem for that block. Here is the first page of “Basket” questions for the final poem in STITCHES.

And here is the poem that grew partially from these questions:


Each night, I take my patches, blocks, and scraps
of fabric from the basket by the chair;
my thimble, thread, and needle comfort me.
I lay my stitches down and troubles fall
away. Before too long, I'm breathing with
the rhythm of my quilting -- listening
wide with every fiber of my soul:
the praise songs of my people; voices
of my kin; drumbeats of my motherland form
the threads that weave the fabric of my life.

I strongly believe one creative endeavor feeds another, and this definitely held true while I was working my quilt and the poems for I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN. I'd go back and forth between sewing and writing. Then when I needed to know some historical fact, I'd go off to the library to do a little research on basket-making or blacksmithing or the North Star or whatever. It was so much fun, I've decided to make a quilt for each book I write!

I’ve since found that asking questions about a photograph, a sculpture, or some object on my desk is my favorite exercise to do when I’m stuck—or when I’m beginning a new writing project.

You might wish to try this technique yourself.  Look at a piece of artwork:  painting, sculpture, quilt, postcard, paperweight--whatever.

Ask and list 50 questions about the object before writing!

Then begin. You will know the object intimately by this time -- it will turn into a beautiful poem.

Cynthia Grady is a poet and librarian living in New Mexico. You can learn more about her and her upcoming books at

Cynthia has generously offered a signed copy of I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY to one commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, October 11 to be entered into this drawing.