From torn tendons to tenderloin: a week’s worth of life lessons

This past week has been another crazy-busy one. I know everyone has more and more responsibilities weighing them down these days, but for me, sometimes it’s hard just keeping those responsibilities straight – much less actually accomplishing them.

As a stay-at-home dad to my 3-year-old son and 10-week-old daughter, it’s a constant struggle trying to take care of them while running my voiceover business, writing my children’s poetry and picture book manuscripts, being a supportive hubby to my lovely bride, and trying to find a few spare minutes for myself to be able to recharge.

Grey - baking 4
My sous chef, working on the pizza dough

Oh, but first, I need to get a load of laundry in.  Hang on…

Ok, now as I was saying, I — oh, dang, wait a sec – I forgot to load the dishwasher…

Anyway, my point is — ugh, I just realized I was supposed to vacuum the house today! Oh, well, it’ll have to wait…

Before I try to write anything else, let me just put the dogs outside in their kennel and give the baby some milk so she can nap. I’ll have to pay these bills later today.

Let’s stick with bullet points

Indeed, that may be the best way to put this post together, all things considered. You see, although it’s been a stressful and challenging week, there are always rays of sunshine peeking through here and there – little glimmers of inspiration or encouragement that you might miss if you’re too busy trying to just get through the day. Here’s what my past week has been like:

– My Men’s Over-30 Indoor Soccer team’s first game of the season was last Tuesday night, and although we lost, it was to a team that has been playing far longer than we have. We held our own and did an admirable job. Of course, I would have preferred not to have torn a tendon in my left middle finger, but it happens. My finger will be in a brace for the next 6 weeks, but I’m not letting the injury stop me. I won’t be goal-keeping for half the season, but I don’t need fingers to play defense, halfback, or forward!
Lesson learned: Don’t let adversity stop you!

finger
Like I would let THAT stop me!

– A good client of mine asked me to produce a new series of radio commercials for her. We met at a recording studio and, as we have in the past, talked about her business and the various points she wanted to focus on.  I then had the audio (about an hour, total) sent to me, and I’m in the process of cutting up all her good parts into testimonial- style commercials. It’s a major project, and I anticipate being able to produce about 14 or 15 commercials, which she’ll be able to use throughout the rest of this year and next. Why so many? Because there many angles to her business, and I don’t just ask her questions when we’re recording; I listen to her answers. We converse. And that sense of comfort comes through.
Lesson learned: Talk less, listen more!

– One day last week, the baby started crying and wouldn’t stop. She had been changed, fed, held, rocked, changed again, held again, and nothing I was doing was altering her decibel level. Knowing that babies cry because – well, that’s just what they do – I tried not to let it get to me. Eventually, after holding her for what seemed like 182 hours (I’m pretty sure it was less than that, but my arm felt like it had been 182 hours), I decided to try putting her in her baby swing. She immediately stopped crying, closed her eyes, and fell asleep for 2 hours, allowing daddy to finally get some work done. At that point, all I really wanted was a really quiet massage – but since that was out of the question, I decided to work on those commercials.
Lesson learned: Patience, patience, patience!

Best Green Bean Casserole
I could buy 2 pounds for $50, or make twice that for $6. Let me think about that…

– I received a mail-order food catalogue over the weekend from a company I’d never heard of, but which tried tempting me with photos of succulent tenderloin beef, sirloin steaks, and filet mignon. I really wasn’t interested in anything that cost $48 per pound – I kid you not! – but I figured I’d continue to peruse the catalogue and see what else they offered. Then I came across the Green Bean Casserole. Yes, that’s right…the dish your grandmother used to make for Thanksgiving was available by mail-order, for only $25 a pound! Green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and cheap fried onion-things on top, and I could have a 2-pound package sent directly to my door for only FIFTY DOLLARS.
Lesson learned: If I ever have so much money that a $50 Green Bean Casserole sounds like a deal…slap me.

Pay attention to Life!

We don’t always have to be hit with disaster or suffer a major traumatic experience to recognize when Life (or God) is trying to teach us something. Really, there’s something we can learn in everything we experience, if we’re willing to look.

Like you, I get busy, I get stressed, I get uplifted, I get shot down. But in each circumstance, there’s wisdom to be gleaned. I’ve lost out on voiceover gigs; perhaps that’s Life teaching me tenacity. I’ve had numerous children’s writers tell me how much they love some of my poetry; perhaps that’s Life encouraging me to keep writing.

I have four projects I need to work on right now; perhaps that’s Life’s way of teaching me time management.

Or, maybe Life is just telling me everything’s going to be OK.

Either way, I’m listening.

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest,

When soccer, voice-acting, and poetry collide

Well, maybe not “collide” – but perhaps “rub elbows”…

ID-10056952 (soccer ball)My Men’s Over-30 Indoor Soccer league plays its first game tonight, and as I’ve been getting ready the last few weeks, it has occurred to me how important preparation is – for anything you do.

Practicing things like ball control, passing, and, in my case, goal-keeping, helps one to not only become better at those particular skills, but to more easily focus on other things important to the game. If you don’t have to think about how to move the ball from one place to the next, you have more time to survey the field to determine your next move. If you’re not worrying about touching the ball with your hands, as many new players do, you’ll have more confidence when the ball comes your way.

Likewise, prepping for the other things you do in life can be helpful, as well. As a voice actor, preparation takes many forms for me. I prep scripts by reading them over first, correcting for spelling, punctuation, or syntax, and noting where to pause, where to add emphasis, and where to change inflection. I prep my voice by drinking lots of water all the time and making sure not to drink caffeinated beverages or eat salty foods or dairy if I know I’m going to be recording in a little while.

And of course, I constantly prep my abilities by auditioning, auditioning, auditioning.

Every gig I don’t get was practice for the gig I will get

Some folks complain about auditioning for gigs and not getting them.  The way I look at it, auditioning is the main part of my job (marketing is a close second) and actually recording the gigs – doing the “fun stuff,” so to speak – is a much smaller piece of my career pie. Yes, it’s the part that makes me money, but I still spend more time auditioning and marketing.

Do I like being passed over for gigs? Of course not.

However, I do try to find the good in everything. And believe me…for some high-profile, well-paying auditions I lose out on, it’s really hard to find the good.  But if I don’t, where does that leave me? Grumpy and disagreeable is no way to live your life.

We all know what practicing means and we all understand that “practice makes perfect” – but how often are we practicing something and not even realizing it?

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Poetic practice, practice, practice…

As you probably know, I do a lot of writing. For the past several years, I’ve been trying to become a published children’s writer, and it hasn’t been easy. Getting a book published these days through conventional means (agents, editors, contracts, etc.) is hard to do. Getting a children’s book published is even harder.

And getting a children’s book of poetry, which Is what I primarily write, is about the hardest thing there is.

Publishers and agents claim the market isn’t very big, even though every kid in school from kindergarten to 12th grade can recite nursery rhymes, favourite songs, and hip-hop lyrics. My 3-year-old already knows many of the poems in David Elliott’s book, In the Wild, fer cryin’ out loud. But “poetry doesn’t sell” is the mantra we’re repeatedly given.

That’s a whole other blog post, my friend.

My point in mentioning this is, I write and write and write…with no guarantees of success.  Some of my poems are pretty good (I think) and some not so good. The ones I like I either post here or submit to independent anthologies and the ones I don’t like never see the light of day. At least, that is, until I get them to the point where I do like them – through revising and rewriting.

Here again, every poem is practice for the next. If I want to learn to write a poem in a particular form, I’ll work at it and work at it until I get to the point where the form feels comfortable. At that point, I can focus on other elements of the poem like internal rhyme and such. If I’m not focused on the rules of the form because they come more naturally to me, my mind is free to create. (Remember what I was saying about soccer practice?)

If only we could practice life

How cool would that be? You get to go through puberty once, you figure it all out and learn what to do and what not to do and what to say and not to say…then once you’re ready, you get a do-over! That time when you talked back to your dad a little too much? You’d now know when to shut up. That girl you wanted to ask out in high school, but didn’t know if you could? You’d get to actually ask her out.

Alas, we only get one life. That doesn’t mean we still can’t keep practicing to improve ourselves – or at least recognize our failures as practice for success.  Personally speaking, I used to be the biggest introvert on the planet. But I wanted to be more gregarious, so I began acting as if I was. Seriously! I pretended to be outgoing, and although it was extremely difficult at first, over the years it became much easier.

ID-10016199 (soccer mic)I didn’t realize I was practicing gregariousness (is that a word?) – but that’s exactly what I was doing. And I’m a much happier, more sociable fellow these days than I was 25 years ago. Which probably explains my mindset when it comes to failure. As former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis said, “Nothing succeeds like failure.”

Each gig I don’t win or manuscript that is rejected gets me that much closer to a gig I will get or a book I will sell.  Maybe it’s determination. Maybe it’s delusion.

I’m good at both, you know.

I practice.

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: The Mortimer Minute – with apples!

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You may have seen a furry little critter bouncing around various kid lit blogs lately…well today, he’s visiting mine!  He’s Mortimer, a buck-toothed troubadour for children’s poetry, and he’s the mascot for a Poetry Blog Hop started by fellow writer/poet April Halprin Wayland.

Here’s how it works:
1) Answer one of the previous questions asked by the blogger who tagged you, and answer two other questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry;
2) Invite one, two or three other bloggers who write children’s poetry to answer three questions that they make up on their own blogs (again, using one of the pervious questions);
3) In the post, let readers know who your invitees are and when they’re are going to be posting their Mortimer Minute questions and answers.

Well, that sounds simple enough!

mortimer-final

1) What project(s) are you working on now?

Upon completing the manuscript for my winter-themed children’s poetry collection last year, I began working on an autumn-themed collection. (I figure, if an editor likes the first one, they’ll know there’s more where that came from!) I still need another 8 or so poems to complete that, but I also wrote and co-wrote two picture book manuscripts this  year and I have two other picture book ideas I’m trying to work on, too!  Is there any way to cram more than 24 hours into a standard ‘day?’

2) How do you come up with the ideas for your poetry?

Ideas are where you find them. I don’t have to look hard to come up with subject matter, but figuring out a unique angle in which to present it or twist it does require a fair amount of brain work. As I mentioned on this blog earlier this week, I try to find the angle that is least expected. For instance, at the Highlights poetry workshop I’ve been telling you about, one of the exercises David Harrison had us do was brainstorm words that had anything to do with a word he would give us. When he said the word was “jar,” everyone in the room was offering up words like “jelly,” “pickles,” and that sort of thing. One person said “sudden stopping movement,” as in the verb, “jar.”

Me? My first thought was Jar Jar Binks, that annoying character from Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I didn’t say anything, though. Even I thought it was a pretty far stretch. But my point is, dare to be different!

3) What poem do you wish you had written? 

None. There is not a single poem anywhere that I wish I’d written. There are some terrific ones out there, like Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Silverstein’s “The Little Boy and the Old Man,” Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the death of a favorite cat,” Poe’s “To My Mother,” and just about anything Robert Frost ever wrote. But I write my own poetry, and am perfectly content with that – whether it’s any good or not.

I’ve invited two people to join the blog hop:

Violet mug-2Violet Nesdoly is a poet and regular contributor to Poetry Friday.  She’ll post her Mortimer Minute next Friday, Oct. 25.
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papa j funk logoPapa-J Funk, meanwhile, never claimed to be a poet – although he is quite adept at creating fun and unusual rhymes in his picture book manuscripts. He’ll have his ‘Minute’ Friday, Oct. 25, as well!

Speaking of poetry…

Highlights - tree

…here’s another poem I wrote while at that Highlights poetry workshop.  Ironically, even though the workshop was geared to children’s poetry, this is definitely not a children’s poem! I was inspired to write it the first day I was there because a) it was situated in the field right across from all of our cabins and could not be missed, and b) fellow children’s writer/blogger Joy Acey prompted me to write a ‘nature’-themed poem, which is something I’ve had plenty of practice doing before!

“The Apple Tree”

An old tree
in the field across the road
stood in solitude amidst the sawgrass
and goldenrod
and a few errant wildflowers,
so full of precious fruit
I surmised it must be
in wont of a visitor
with whom to share
its treasures.

Desirous of the beauty
I beheld, I journeyed
through green-amber weeds
high to my waist, urgent
soft steps growing
quicker, quicker
and more deliberate.

The tree beckoned, lifting each coy leaf
to expose
sweet bounty beneath.
Soon, I saw boughs heavy
as the Milky Way, bearing
stars upon stars
that outnumbered
and outshone the very leaves
that held them
in the sky.

Faster and faster I trod, consumed
by a fervent lust
for sustenance;
such succulence I’d never seen!
Closer, closer, I came,
heart and eyes wide and longing
until
breaths away…

I stopped.

Under shade of canopy,
I saw clearly only now
blessed fruit blushed
with blight.

Mold-speckled faces frowned
through borers’ brown holes
while wind-wrinkled skin hung
criss-crossed with blemishes
of age and neglect.
I stared
for only a moment,
then sat close to its trunk,
where low-hanging corpses
mocked my desire…

yet,
I would not leave this spot,
for I knew my hunger
was insatiable, and my thirst
unquenched. Here
I would remain
yearning, never satisfied,
but content
with what could have been.

– © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

For all of today’s Poetry Friday links and info, be sure to visit Cathy at Merely Day By Day!

Highlights - tree close-up

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

The stand-up comedy rule that can make you be a better writer

IMG_1839
photo courtesy of Linda Baie

At the “Highlights” workshop I told you about last week, we discussed a variety of things, from how to write better poetry to how to better perform our poetry. One of the topics that came up was how to find a unique angle to write about. After all, every topic in the world has already been written about – so how does a children’s poet (or ANY writer, for that matter) figure out how to create something new and different, with a fresh perspective?

One of my ‘tricks’ which I shared is this. It’s a way to discard the worn out phrases, the clichés, the ‘also-rans’…and find something special, whether you’re writing poetry, novels, or even commercials.  This was only the fourth post I ever published on my blog (Aug. 13, 2012), long before my followers numbered in double-digits!  So I thought this might be a good time to resurrect it in case you, too, have struggled with finding your own personal spin on a subject. And please let me know your thoughts, below – I’d love to read your comments on this!

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See if you can come up with a humourous joke or ending to this line:  “Rutgers University fired their head coach for verbally abusing players…”

It’s ok, I’ll wait…

So, how long did it take you to come up with your response?  Fairly quickly?  Or did you take some time thinking about it?  If you answered with the first thing that popped into your head – congratulations!  You’re just like most people.

If, on the other hand, you took some time to think about your answer so that it would be unique, unusual, unexpected…you just discovered a stand-up comedy rule that can help you write better stories, poems, commercials, even Facebook comments and Tweets!

Before we go any further, take a look at this. Go ahead and skip to 1:09 and see what happens:

Example #1:

Now, whether or not you like Jay Leno, he and his staff know how to write comedy.  The thing is, you don’t need to be a comedy writer to follow this rule:

Never go with your first impulse!

That’s the rule, plain & simple.  Don’t go with the first thing that pops into your head!  If you’re taking the SAT, well, sure – your first impulse is probably the right answer.  But when writing creatively, your first thought is most likely the same first thought as everyone else, and for someone who’s trying to appear original…that’s not good.

ID-10048131 (basketball)In the video clip, Jay makes reference to the embattled coach and shows video footage of what happened to draw you into a certain premise – that this is all real.  However, the surprise at the end of the news clips is funny because the audience never anticipated it.  He could have said something simple, like, “It’s so bad, Rutgers is considering hiring Bobby Knight!” (For those who don’t know, he’s another controversial head coach)  Now, that line isn’t extremely funny, but I can certainly see someone posting that on a Facebook or Twitter page.

But Jay takes the idea of the coach throwing basketballs to an extreme (exagerration is another trick to writing stand-up), and gets laughs because a) the image of the ball coming from out of nowhere during a news report is funny in and of itself, and b) it was unexpected.

Look at it this way:  how many times have you come across an interesting Facebook post or news article and was going to leave a witty comment but noticed someone else had already written it first?  Or how many times have you seen a comment that you just knew someone was going to write?

Example #2:

The following is a radio commercial I wrote, voiced, and produced for a Mexican restaurant called El Jimador that had just opened in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.  I think it’s a good example of how not to go the route everyone else might, and create a commercial that will stand out from the multitude of other restaurant commercials out there.

Backstory:  I was told the restaurant featured truly traditional Mexican food, not the Americanized fare with which most of us are familiar.  They offered all the items one would expect (tacos, burritos, etc.) but many items that might not be so familiar.  And they were just opening, so they wanted to get people’s attention, quick.  Yes, I could have started off by saying, hey, here’s a new Mexican restaurant, featuring all your favourites, blah, blah, and blah…but we’ve all heard those commercials and it really wouldn’t tell the whole story.  The story was about not just what they were, but why they were.

I grabbed a menu.

The cover featured the restaurant’s namesake, el jimador (an agave farmer), and explained who he was and why they named their establishment after him.  I loved it!  I took that information, condensed it, and used it as the basis of the commercial:

El Jimador_Image 6-7-11 (REV)

Notice I don’t even mention the name of the place until halfway through the spot.  Some advertising gurus will tell you that the client name should be mentioned in the first 5 seconds and at least 5 or 6 times throughout the commercial; that’s hogwash.  I eschew the ‘early and often’ rule of copy writing in favour of the ‘make it compelling and they’ll keep listening’ rule.  I could go on about that, but I’ll save it for a future blog post.

Also note that I didn’t spend a lot of time reading a laundry list of items; I did need to include some of the traditional items offered (at the client’s request), but overall, I’d say you probably have not heard many restaurant commercials like this one.  Most talk at the listener; I prefer speaking TO the listener.

I took a route that was unusual; I didn’t settle for the first thing I came up with.  For someone in the business of writing…

Steer clear of the trap of being predictable!

Trust your gut; it usually knows what it’s doing.  The next time you’re going to write something – anything – ask your gut if it thinks someone else would have thought of it, also.  Say, ‘Hey gut, old friend, what do you think?”   If your gut tells you it’s the same thing it would’ve said…scrap it and come up with something better.

As I said earlier, this rule applies for any kind of writing.  Whether it’s a novel, tweet, children’s literature, or blog post – use a critical eye.  Step back and look at what you’ve written objectively, and think before you hit ‘submit.’

You may be surprised at how creative you can be, when you force yourself to think just a little bit harder!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Walking Among Stars”

If you read my post from earlier this week about my fantastic trip to a Highlights writer’s workshop, you know how inspiring those 4 days were. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so – even if you just skim the good parts!  It was one of the best professional experiences of my life, and I can’t say enough about the staff, the workshop leaders, and my 14 fellow writers.

I managed to write a number of poems because of that trip, and this is one of them.  I hope you like it! And for all of the Poetry Friday links and info (along with a powerful and somber poem about Jan Palach, the Czech citizen who set himself on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion), please visit Laura Purdie Salas’ blog!

ID-10017569 (Fall leaves & trees)

“Walking Among Stars”

I watched the leaves turn yesterday
one by one and tree by tree,
like little rainbow-colored stars
falling from the sky for me.

From all around they tumbled down,
dainty painted-paper suns…
I slowly strolled through red and gold.
I was one of the mighty ones.

– © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Inspiration, education, celebration and percussion: A look back at a “Highlights” workshop

Since I first began this blog in August 2012, I’ve shared insights I’ve gleaned from various experiences such as SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)conferencesworking at a fair, and even picking berries.  It’s always fun to learn new things, meet new people, and find inspiration in unexpected places. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about my trip to Highlights magazine’s poetry workshop last week!

Highlights - Honesdale
The Highlights office in Honesdale, PA

The Highlights Foundation, based in Honesdale, PA along with its magazine and book-publishing namesake, helps authors to hone their skills by providing workshops and scholarships throughout the year.

The workshops are held in a beautiful area in the rural, rolling Pennsylvania countryside of Boyd’s Mills (about 20 minutes north of Honesdale), where the original creators of Highlights lived, complete with individual cabins for the writers and a large gathering place called The Barn, where much of the activity takes place.

As wonderful as the facilities are, though, the real strength of the workshops is the people who both organize them and attend them.

Highlights - The Barn
The Barn!

During last week’s workshop, “Poetry for the Delight of It,” I was joined by 14 other children’s writers who all wanted to learn about improving our poetry writing – and the folks leading the workshops read more like a Who’s Who of children’s publishing than just a ‘staff’ list:

David L. Harrison, who has written 80+ books for children and is the only person I know who has a school named after him. (And here I’d settle for just one publishing contract!)
J. Patrick Lewis, former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and author of 70+ books for children, who joined us via Skype.
Rebecca Davis, senior editor for Boyds Mills Press (Highlights’ book publishing imprint) and WordSong, the only imprint in the U.S. that publishes poetry exclusively.
– Renée LaTulippe, writer, poet, editor, and performance artist living the good life in Italy, who also joined us via Skype. (You can learn more about Renée HERE)

When you spend four days of your life eating, breathing, and sleeping poetry – and I do mean that literally – you can’t help but gain a wealth of knowledge. Here are a few choice tidbits:

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Attendees Deborah Holt Williams, Kathy Doherty, and Heidi Bee Roemer – all of whom were recently published in Highlights – together with editor Kathleen Hayes (2nd from L)

1)  No matter how many times to submit, don’t stop.  One of the many staff members of Highlights with whom we had an opportunity to speak was Kathleen Hayes, the editor of Highlights’ two magazines geared to younger readers, “High Five” and “Hello.”  When I told her I’ve mailed 3 or 4 submissions over the past couple of years, she said some writers submit pieces every couple of months! (Duly noted Kathleen, duly noted!)

2) “Nothing succeeds like failure.” This is a direct quote from Pat Lewis, who reminded us that every rejection is an opportunity to learn, grow, revise, rewrite, and learn the value of perseverance and tenacity.  I think I knew that, but it’s hard to remember with all those rejection slips cluttering up the inside of my mailbox.

3) Everyone views poetry differently. This is something else I knew, but the point was driven home for me at the workshop.  While sharing some poetry with different attendees, two poems my critique group weren’t all that keen on were loved – while two poems that I had thought were strong received a lukewarm reception.  Were my feelings hurt? Not at all – any feedback is good feedback! Am I questioning whether I should continue beating myself up about when a poem can cease being revised? Oooh, yeah.

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photo courtesy of Pat Cooley

4) Even when surrounded by familiarity, inspiration might still be waiting for you. The workshops are promoted as a way for writers to ‘get away from it all’ and relax, surrounded by nature. Chipmunks and garter snakes darted here and there, geese flew overhead, and the colours of fall were abundant as trees turned from their summer greens to brilliant reds, pinks, and golds. A small creek following an old logging trail near the base of the property, and nights were filled with singing crickets and quiet stars.

All of which I experience every day, living here in New Hampshire!  So even though I was anticipating great fun and inspiration, I was not expecting “nature” to inspire me any more than it usually does.  I doubted living in the woods, staring at trees, or taking a walk along the creek would have much impact on my writing.  Five poems in four days proves how wrong I was.  Never anticipate where you think inspiration will come from, and never underestimate your own power to inspire yourself.

Highlights - David
David Harrison with attendee Michelle Schaub

5) Poetry can be a lot more fun with percussion. One of the attendees, Jeanne Poland, brought a trunkful of African percussion instruments, from bongos to shekeres to Y rattles, which we all shared one night while David recited some of his poetry. We then all took part in a drum circle , one of us starting a basic rhythm and then each one joining in until everyone was performing together. You could feel rhythm as much as the camaraderie.

6) Poetry can be even more fun with alcohol.  Not a lot, mind you – just enough to remove your inhibitions if you happen to have performance anxieties.

7) S’mores can be more fun with alcohol, too. OK, well, I knew this…that’s why I brought the alcohol. But here’s what you do:  before toasting marshmallow, dip it in a high-alcohol liqueur like Drambuie, Grand Marnier, or Rumple Minze. The thing will immediately flame up once it hits the heat, the alcohol will have burned off, and you’re left with one really tasty marshmallow!

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Just a few of the cabins!

8) Illustrators are in far higher demand than writers. This was a shock to me. When Ms. Davis recounted the story of how a recent book got published, she inferred that the publisher was, for all intents and purposes, at the mercy of an illustrator who was taking too long to complete the project.

She described some of the issues editors and agents have to deal with in working with certain illustrators – how illustrators often work at their own speed and can make or break a project – and all I could think was, “I’ve gotta start brushing up on my artwork!”

9) There’s a Giganotosaurus skull inside the Highlights office building. As in, a REAL dinosaur skull, the size of your refrigerator. If you want to see something cool next time you’re in Honesdale, put that on your list.

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Top, L-R: Linda Dryfhout. Cory Corrado, Joy Acey, Michelle Schaub, Linda Baie. Bottom, L-R: Pat Cooley, Julie Stiegmeyer, Heidi Bee Roemer

10) You can’t put a price on relationships. Of course, this is a given – but in the context of this poetry workshop, the attendees, workshop leaders, and support staff (from Highlights Foundation executive director Kent Brown to Chef Joe), everyone was a contributor to the success of the workshop. To a small or large degree, each of the 15 attendees had an impact on the other. In fact, many of them are allowing me to post their photos here! We’re all planning to keep in touch, and I hope we do.

Was the workshop worth the cost of tuition and travel? Yes and YES.

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Good ol’ Cabin #13

11) No matter who you are, you can always use some encouragement. Inside each of the cabins we stayed in were journals filled with stories and well-wishes from folks who had previously stayed there.  As I read through mine one night, I stopped and stared at the name; even someone like him, who writes all the time and has had much success, benefitted from the enlightenment and inspiration afforded by these workshops. It just goes to show, if you think there’s nothing else you can learn, you probably won’t.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES12) There’s not much cellphone service in Boyd’s Mills, PA. Not that that’s necessarily a problem, but you should be prepared!

A tremendous opportunity – and learning experience…

I can honestly say, with no hint of hyperbole, my experience at the workshop was life-changing. I was not only inspired but I gained some great insights into writing, publishing, and what I need to do to get these manuscripts that are piling up published.

Throughout the year, workshop topics cover everything from poetry and picture books to YA novels and interactive media, so if you’d like to find out more about the Highlights Foundation’s workshops, click HERE.

And if you have any questions about the one I attended, don’t hesitate to ask; hopefully I’ll see you there next year!

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If you’d like, you can see more photos HERE!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

CYBILS and “Highlights”

Hi, this is Matt.  I’m not here right now, but…

No, seriously. I’m not here!  I’m actually starting my first day of a 4-day children’s poetry workshop at Highlights magazine’s “Barn” in Pennsylvania.  Yes, it’s called The Barn, and it’s where 15 of us writers of children’s poetry are gathering for a workshop entitled “Poetry for the Delight of It.”

Headed up by author and poet David L. Harrison, the workshop also features senior editor for Highlights’ Boyds Mills Press and WordSong, Rebecca Davis; former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis; and editor/writer/poet Renée LaTulippe For a children’s writer, four days of education, conversation, and inspiration are priceless…and the fact that I received a partial scholarship from Highlights to attend is simply unbelievable to me.

CYBILS logoI hope to make the most of it!

Since I’m away from my desk, and my computer, and my phone, and any other distractions, I didn’t want to post a brand-new, full-length article…but I did want to thank the folks at the CYBILS Awards. Yours Truly was selected as a 2nd-round judge in the children’s poetry book category, and I couldn’t be more excited!

What are the CYBILS, you ask? They are the Children and Young adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (yes, they take a bit of poetic license with the acronym), and they are handed out each year to the folks who the bloggers feel wrote the highest-quality children’s books. This is why, as a children’s writer (albeit unpublished) and blogger, I am thrilled to be able to participate.

I’m in some pretty heady company, too; most of the judges have done this before, so I’m one of the few newbies. See the complete list of esteemed poetry judges HERE, and then you can click around and see all the judges for all the other categories, like middle-grade, picture book, etc. First-round judges will pour over all the books nominated, then send their recommendations on to us 2nd-round judges, who are charged with whittling those selected books down to the best of the best!

More news about the CYBILS to follow in the weeks and months ahead – public nominations are accepted Oct. 1-15 (an online form should be available via the CYBILS website starting today) – but for now, I need to get back to my cabin…there’s some children’s poetry that needs writing…

Have a great week!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!