Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing Prompt/Brainstorming with Lisa Wheeler

I have known Lisa Wheeler since she spun her first tale in WOOL GATHERING. Since that time, I have done some gathering of my own, as I now have in my collection WOOL GATHERING, FARMER DALE'S PICK-UP TRUCK, TURK AND RUNT, OLD CRICKET, AVALANCHE ANNIE, ONE DARK NIGHT, PORCUPINING, SIXTEEN COWS and SAILOR MOO, to name just a few!

It looks like she has served up another treat with UGLY PIE, which  is next on my "To Buy" list!
Shop at!
The cover is scrumptious and even somewhat matches the style of my kitchen and my Jim Shore Folk Art animal and seasonal art collection . I think I want this book on display in my kitchen cabinet when we're finished reading!

But enough about my kitchen. I'm extremely psyched to have such a prolific author here this UGLY Saturday morning in New York, to prompt me (and the rest of you) to start the morning writing.  When I read the exercise myself, I not only found it inspiring, but LOVED hearing the process by which she created this book (and Sailor Moo). Fun and fascinating, Lisa!

I'm sure, with Lisa's seeds for thought, we all can make something good of the writing day and maybe even bake a marketable pie!


BRAINSTORMING: Word Lists by Lisa Wheeler

When asked to do writing exercises in workshops, I usually freeze up. I have flashbacks of elementary school and having to perform on demand in front of the classroom. So when Lynne asked me if I would be willing to share a writing exercise, my first reaction was panic!

But then I realized that maybe others out there are like me and freeze up when asked to write on demand. So I decided to share a little thing I do at the onset of writing my picture books.

Simply put, I brainstorm. I am a character driven writer, so I usually have a character in mind but have not yet been ‘told’ what his /her story will be. This is when I sit down with my notebook and begin to brainstorm.

Let’s take my newest book, Ugly Pie. I knew the main character was named Ol’ Bear and I knew he wanted Ugly Pie. That’s all I had.

So I begin to make word-association lists. I made ne list for my character and another for either the setting or something important to story—in this case, pie.

So the list might look like this:

Three bears

And then, I brainstorm words that have ‘bear/bare’ in them, as I am a horrible punner.
Bare naked

I move onto pie.

Sweet potato

Why do I do all this? First off, it gives me a sense of story. As I make list, I am getting images in my brain that set the tone as well as give the story a sense of place for me. Second, as I begin writing the story, chances are, I may get stuck. Happens all the time. When that happens, I pull out my lists. Aha! There I see a word that may lead me to a place I never anticipated going.

For instance, when I was writing Sailor Moo, I had three pages of word lists. Some were under the COW heading and some were under OCEAN. At one point in the story, I had no clue where the story was heading. I went to my lists and saw that under both headings, I had the word ‘seacow’. I knew I must have one in Sailor Moo’s adventure and that is how she came to befriend the manatee.

I realize this way of beginning won’t work for everyone, but the next time you decide to write a new story, give it a try. You ever know where those lists might lead you.

Lisa Wheeler is passionate about children’s books. “I love everything about them, including the smell.” To date, Lisa has twenty-eight titles on library shelves, with more to follow over the next few years. She’s written picture books in prose and rhyme, an easy reader series, three books of poems, and creative nonfiction for the very young.
Awards include the 2004 Mitten Award for Old Cricket, given by the Michigan Library Association, the 2005/06 Great Lakes, Great Books Award and 2005 Missouri Building Blocks Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, the 2006 Bluebonnet Award for Seadogs , the 2006/07 South Carolina Picture Book Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum .
and most recently, the 2008 The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for Jazz Baby given by the American Library Association.
Her newest titles include Dino-Baseball, illustrated by Barry Gott (CarolRhoda), and Ugly Pie, illustrated by Heather Solomon (Harcourt)
Lisa shares her Michigan home with one husband, one dog, and an assortment of anthropomorphic characters.
Check out her website at;

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