Inspiration is a slippery thing, impossible to catch when you’re trying and ironically, easiest to catch when you’re really, really busy doing something else.  About a year after Click Clack Moo was published, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith.  I was an attorney at the time working long days and plenty of weekends to boot.  I wanted to pursue writing as my career, so I finally quit my day job and shortly thereafter, we moved out of the city and out (well, up, actually)

to the suburbs.    I was going to write all day.  All night if I wanted to!   I had my own office in the house, I had plenty of writing time.  Noday job to get in my way!   I sat and I sat and I sat – and I thought and I thought and I thought and I waited and waited and waited.  You know what never showed up?  INSPIRATION. I didn’t write a thing for almost a year.  DIDN’T WRITE A THING.    I had written so much more when I was working long hours and always pressed for time.  Oddly, inspiration struck when I had no time for it back then.  WHAT? NOW? A story about a worm?? It’s 1:00 a.m. and I have a brief due tomorrow!    But when your brain is working, its working overtime.  The harder I worked at my day job, the more my brain was spinning with ideas.

What I learned in The Year of Not Writing (besides that we really should move back to the city), was that more often than not, inspiration shows up in the work.   I write every single day.   I absolutely do not write well every single day. In fact, I rarely do.   Ninety percent of what I write is unusable.  Horrible.  Hideous. Embarrassingly bad.  Boring.  Unoriginal. Most of it will never see the light of day.  But if I wait for inspiration, they will find my rotting corpse hunched over my desk and a blank screen on my computer.  Which came first – the inspiration or the work?  Very rarely, for me at least, it’s the inspiration.  Usually, the uninspired work comes first and somewhere in the first draft or third draft or 18thdraft, something from that work stands out, pops out, screams for attention.  That’s the inspiration.  Only you have to write it first.   So frustrating!!

Where to start?  Anywhere.    I’m an introvert – so I’m listening way more than I’m talking – which is helpful.  If you are chatting on your cell phone, or sitting near me on the F train, or at the next table in a restaurant… I’m eavesdropping.  Bits of things, pieces of things are the best.  Almost anything taken out of context can be a great story starter, title, or dialogue.  I’m also partially deaf, so I mishearthings all the time – which also makes for strange word pairings in my brain (and plenty of awkward conversations, which is okay, because of the introvert thing – I’m used to it.).    Mistakes are great inspirations.  Embarrassment is great inspiration.  Fear excels at the art of inspiration.   If you are not lucky enough to be a hard-of-hearing introvert, re-write an old idea.  Write about a time you were deeply embarrassed or scared to death.  Write about what you wished you had said in a recent awkward conversation, instead of what actually came out of your mouth (maybe that’s just me).

In the heart of every story is conflict – or a problem.  Find yours.  Use yours.  Give your problems away to your characters.  See what they do with them.  If you can’t come up with a character, use a stand-in.  Here, squirrel, here’s my problem.  I’m afraid of ________.  Just start writing the story about the squirrel afraid of public speaking – even though this would seem to fall into the category of a problem with little consequence for a squirrel.  Just write it.  Ninety percent of it will be unusable, hideous, boring, nonsensical.  But it will start you down a path where you don’t know what’s coming.  That’s where you want to be.   That’s where inspiration likes to hang out.

When I die, some poor soul will come along and have to dig through my office. If I was alive, I’d be mortified at how many bad ideas, bad writing, and manuscripts completely lacking in originality will be unearthed.  That’s the work.  Maybe it will inspire somebody…






Bloom…and the Unspeakable Mess she Left Behind

Bloom is the story of a confident, clunky fairy who just happens to be covered in dirt and has a tendency to break things.  To add insult to injury, she also leaves a trail of mud and footprints behind her.   She happily shares her magic in the kingdom she calls home, but like so many things we find magical at first, the shine wears off and we grow pessimistic or bored or determined to see only the negative.  The kingdom grows tired of the mud and the glass shards and Bloom, to her credit, grows very tired of listening to their complaints.  Off she goes to find a place where her magic – and not her mess – is the story.

I have two young daughters and the idea for an unintentionally destructive, yet happily dirty fairy,  grew out of my own growing dislike (okay, rage) at all the tiny, shiny, pretty, sparkly female characters I was reading about with them.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being tiny, shiny, pretty and sparkly – if that’s who you are – but it is NOT A REQUIREMENT.   I wish I could say writing Bloom was all about showing my daughters there are different ways to be – but some part of it was likely written for myself. Not all magic is neat and shiny. Some of it is loud, dirty, awkward, and dare I say, hard work.   Sometimes, the magic you are counting on doesn’t happen and sometimes the magic is just a spark that requires a tremendous amount of hard work and occasional profanity to dig it out.

Lastly, Bloom leaves a trail, and you should, too.  Your mess lets us know you were here.  Let children remind us that they are here – with their voices, their dirty hands, their broken lamps, their songs, and their messes.  It’s part of their magic.

So bring a hammer, a shovel, your pen, a bucket, your clunkiest shoes and your dirtiest hair and break something.  Make a mess.  Leave a trail.  It will make it so much easier to find you. Then, if you are extraordinarily lucky, someone will pour their own magic into the mix.  A huge thank you to David Small, for his beautiful, muddy and magical illustrations.    Thank you!




Cyclone is a story about twelve year old Nora, and her cousin, Riley, who fight different fears to ride the oldest, shakiest wooden roller coaster in the world.  Approximately one minute and fifty three seconds after the safety bar comes down, the girls’ lives and the language of their friendship  — and their families’ —  may be changed forever.


I’ve loved rollercoasters since I was a kid.   I loved the speed, the unexpected drops and the hairpin turns.  So I thought nothing of getting on a rollercoaster – the Cyclone, nonetheless —  for the first time in a decade with my visiting nieces and nephew a few years ago.  I was fine on the slow rise up the first hill and terrified a millisecond after our release downward.  What the hell was I doing on this thing?   I didn’t laugh or scream on that ride.  I no longer loved the lack of control or the unpredictability.  I was terrified – and not in the fun way.


So I wrote the beginning of the story when I got home (what else is there to do with fear?) As I began to write, my words pulled out some neatly filed chapters in my brain — re-opening the first five weeks my daughter’s life spent in the NICU, and then my  mother’s stroke about six years later ..   I struggled in both of those circumstances, and I am a  (mostly) high functioning adult.  What would it look like for a 12 year-old to have to navigate them?


So many of our crises – and our triumphs – involve a new set of words, a new language to learn.  Whether its 7th grade , American History, or a summer spent in the hospital family room, eventually, we find the words.    I read Sharon Creech to my four-pound daughter when she finally came home on a heart monitor.  Six years later with my mom, my kids and I moved in for a month and  we used our own spelling flashcards along with the immeasurable guidance of a speech pathologist who came to the house and a speech pathologist on speed dial (my sister!)  to communicate with her.


My wish is that readers think about words – which ones limit them and which ones are opportunities; which ones define them and which ones they might want to let go of.    I hope they discover the strength and complexities of silence.   I hope they marvel at their own fluency is unnamed languages– spoken and unspoken, private and public, school and home,  close friend and stranger; safety and fear.    And maybe, just maybe, what and who we lose when we rely on the bare bones of a screen blinking “R U there?” instead of showing up and standing by for the answer.


The Blank Page

Dear Readers and Writers,

What’s the hardest part about writing?  It’s the blank page staring at you and waiting for you to BE CREATIVE.  NOW.  GO.

Whether you are writing at home or at school, the pressure of getting something on the page can sometimes stop you from putting anything on the page.  So, here are my instructions:  Put anything on the page.  Just to get you started.  What did you eat for breakfast?  Oatmeal?  Write that down.


What shoes are you wearing today?  What do they look like?

Red sneakers.  Dirty laces. 

Good, see?  No more blank page.  Now what?  Write something else.


Red sneakers with  dirty laces.

That is how I start my day every day.

I don’t like oatmeal, but I love my red sneakers.

Where is this going?  I have no idea.  But keep going.  Who comes into the room?  Did you spill some of that oatmeal on your red sneakers?  Did the dog lick it off? 

If you are writing a poem, go there:


Red sneakers

Dirty laces.



Ready for today.

DO NOT LET YOUR NEGATIVE VOICE interrupt your beautiful brain as it works with oatmeal and red sneakers. Shut your negative voice down.  It might be saying:

That makes no sense.


That is a terrible poem.


Who cares about oatmeal and red sneakers? 

Don’t listen.  Keep writing.  Your brain is with you.  Your creativity is with you.  Your imagination is with you.  Everybody else can stay home.   You may end up writing a story that has nothing to do with oatmeal and red sneakers with dirty laces, but it won’t matter.  Then go back and gently cross those words out.  You might not need them anymore, but they got you where you needed to go.

Now eat a good breakfast, lace up and get writing. 

Yours in Rough Draft,