Creativity Corner with Terry Shay – Telling Our Stories

I attended the American Library Association annual conference held June 21-26 in New Orleans, LA. I was able to hear Michelle Obama in conversation with Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden and was struck by the following message from the former first lady.

“For me, a black woman from a working-class background, to have the opportunity to tell her story is interestingly rare. You know, I think that’s why some people ask the question… ‘How did you go from here to there.’ It’s sort of like people think that I’m a unicorn. It’s like, like I don’t exist. Like people like me don’t exist. And I know there are so many people in this country and in this world who feel like they don’t exist because their stories aren’t told. Or they think their stories aren’t worthy of being told…We are all just people with stories to tell and we’re flawed and broken and there’s no miracle in our story, it’s just we’re just trying to live life and do good…I hope [my book] starts a conversation about voice and encourages so many other people, because we need to know everyone’s stories so we don’t forget the humanity in each other.”

You can listen to the entire program on C-Span

The Creativity Corner often includes writing tips because I feel it’s one important way to be creative. If we all tell our story, according to Mrs. Obama, we will not forget the humanity in each other. I’ve asked authors and educators to share tips that will help tell our stories. We can look back to Creative Corner’s past and check out ways to help bring out the story in all of us. Anika Denise (@anikadenise) shared a writing strategy; I shared a strategy from my wife and some word collecting from Peter H. Reynolds; Anna Raff taught us how to make a Zine. Below you will find inspiration from author Tina Kügler on how she collects and archives ideas for stories.

Story Orphanage by Tina Kügler

I have a crummy notebook (this part is important) that I call my Story Orphanage. I borrowed the idea from Daniel Lanois, a musician and producer. My husband told me about an interview where Mr. Lanois talked about keeping a library of snippets of audio he calls his “melody orphanage” and “beat orphanage” and so on. I thought it was brilliant and shamelessly borrowed it. So there.

My notebook is from the Dollar Store, if it were any nicer, I would be afraid to write in it. The whole idea of the Story Orphanage is that it is all little fragments of ideas, tiny seeds of this and that. Maybe it’s just a line, or a character description, or a whole situation. My rule is, nothing is too dumb or silly or meaningless. Everything goes into the orphanage, and nobody can read it, so I won’t die of embarrassment.

Because I have a weakness for office supplies, I use different colored pens. The lighter the color, the less-formed or lose the idea is, the stronger ideas get a darker color. You don’t have to do this part; the important part is to write down everything. Here’s why the dumbest, most pointless ideas are important: they are the stepping stones that lead to GOOD stories. They are like the bottom rungs of the ladder that you need to step on to climb up to a story that works. And just like climbing a ladder, you can’t skip any steps: you will never have a perfectly-formed story appear in your head, and you will drive yourself crazy trying to think of one. But one silly idea leads to another better idea and on and on. And maybe the points connect and your story suddenly CLICKS while you are in the shower or doing the dishes or riding in the car, when your mind is wandering.

Also: wandering minds are important, too. Stay off of your mobile devices so your mind CAN wander. We were on a road trip driving through the cornfields of Nebraska, and I was in the passenger seat zoning out watching the cornstalks, and I said out loud: “What if Snail found a penny and thought it was his reflection?” And that ridiculous story ended up in SNAIL AND WORM AGAIN. Had I been on my phone, my mind would have been occupied. A wandering mind is an essential element to creativity. You NEED to be bored.

I just had the points connect for me on a story from my orphanage. About four months ago, I scribbled out a few lines of text while I was in the car waiting for my kids after school. I tried to make it work then, and I just couldn’t, so I moved on. Just this week, I came up with the missing thread to tie the story together, and it’s going out for submission next week. If I hadn’t scribbled out the idea in my notebook, I would have completely forgotten it.

Tina Kugler is the author of many books including the 2018 Geisel Honor Book, Snail and Worm Again

Books On the Horizon

PEARL by Molly Idle from Little Brown. Pearl is destined for greatness, only when the story begins her mother makes her responsible for one grain of sand. Patience and fortitude are the main requirement for her to mind her responsibility all the while, learning a great lesson. Available October 9. @MollyIdle @littlebrown

THE DRESS AND THE GIRL by Camille Andros illustrated by Julie Morstad from Abrams Kids is a beautiful immigration story of a girl and a dress coming to the United States from Greece. Available August 7, 2018.


INTERRUPTING CHICKEN AND THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE by David Ezra Stein from Candlewick is a funny follow up to Interrupting Chicken! Even the name made me laugh!


Dot Day Links

Find a complete list of links to help you get ready for International Dot Day 2018 on my blog. This year will be the tenth celebration of Dot Day and the 15th anniversary of the book.

New-ish Celebridots

If you haven’t checked out the Celebridot collection lately, it’s time to revisit. There have been some awesome new Celebridots added to the gallery. The dots are from people kids will recognize and are meant to inspire them to be creative! Find the whole gallery here.

Alex Willan

Benson Shum @bshum79


Cori Doerrfeld  @CoriDoerrfeld

Jess Keating @Jess_Keating

Joy Steuerwald @joystewy

Kat Yeh @yehface

Martha Brockenbrough @mbrockenbrough

Mike Petrik @MikePetrik
Monica Carnesi @monicacarnesiNina Victor Crittenden @NVCrittendenSean Qualls @sean_quallsWendell and Florence Minor @MinorartMolly Idle @mollyidleAnna Kang @annakang27

Morning Book Club

The morning book club is on summer vacation but will be back next month with book recommendations!

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