Blackout Poetry and Other Avenues of Creativity

My son came for a visit this weekend and we had a lot of fun spending time together – just hanging out and, among other things, creating blackout poetry! Yeah, we do things like that. He’s a high school English teacher and I work in the author publicity field, so I always have my nose in a book of some sort. Anyway, we are definitely cut from the same cloth and every time he visits we tend to gravitate toward a few favorite activities involving some sort of creativity. Here are a few ideas to ignite your imagination:

Shakespeare anyone?

The first cultural activity we had planned included a visit to Zilker Park Hillside Theater, a beautiful outdoor venue in Austin, TX. Twice a year they host free shows for the public. Austin Shakespeare always hosts the May production, featuring one of Shakespeare’s works (obviously).  This year the show is “The Merchant of Venice” and we were really looking forward to going.  We typically pack a picnic, spread out a few blankets and soak up some Shakespeare!  Unfortunately, it rained all day Saturday. Sounds like the show still went on in spite of inclement conditions, but, I’m a fair-weather girl, and between the tornado warnings and the thought of sitting on wet grounds, it didn’t really sound all that appealing, so we opted for Plan B.

Plan B – Jigsaw Puzzles!

Best laid plans, right? If you’re stuck inside or just choose to be inside and want to spend quality time with family and friends – do a jigsaw puzzle! Along with some great conversation and laughs, there are also many benefits from doing puzzles – such as developing increased problem-solving skills, lowering stress levels, improving your mood – the list goes on.

In fact,  Here’s a good article about some of the benefits. I do at least two or three puzzles a year. I’d do them more often, but they tend to take me away from things that need to be done – though I do love a good distraction. Still, I think they spark creativity because they stimulate your mind and require thinking outside the box.  This is the puzzle we did this weekend.  The photo didn’t turn out that great – It’s a blueprint of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” house and it was a HARD puzzle!

But, what about the blackout poetry?

What about the blackout poetry?  Yes, it is so much fun! I’ve heard about it but never actually tried it, so we took a break from the jigsaw puzzle to create some blackout poems of our own! I found some helpful information online outlining the process. John DePasquale of Scholastic says of blackout poetry:

“Blackout poems can be created using the pages of old books or even articles cut from yesterday’s newspaper. Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces. Blackout poems, as I’m sure you can imagine, run the gamut from absurd to sublime because all of the words are already there on the page, but the randomness is all part of the fun!” Read his full article here for instructions and guidelines to create your own blackout poetry.

My son does this activity with his classes and says it’s always a big hit with the kids.  I found it to be engaging, inspirational and thought-provoking. It definitely stirs your creative juices, so it may even help you in other areas of your writing.  Hailey Hudson of “Craft Your Content” says every writer should do blackout poetry because it relieves stress, restores creativity and helps with writer’s block! Read Hailey’s full article here.

Handiwork from our blackout session.

Here is one of my creations from this weekend. A lot of blackout poetry includes artwork and it’s quite impressive. I’m not there yet – I’m just playing around with the words at this point. All in all, I was happy with my first attempt (though it is a bit dark – I have a goal to work on being more inspirational in the future). I can say this – the whole process is addicting!

To learn more about blackout poetry and see some examples, just Google “blackout poetry” for some amazing inspiration. I’d love to see some of your blackout poetry and hear how you bring creativity into your days!

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

Lately, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about the craft of writing picture books in the hopes of becoming a picture book scholar! There is so much information available to new authors.  While I have to thank those that take the time to share their experiences with newbies, like me, it can get overwhelming.  What are your favorite craft books about writing picture books?

Learning from those who’ve gone before us.

I’m currently reading “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul and I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s REALLY good – an actual step-by-step process for writing your picture book.  The author recommends following the steps through the book in real time, as you are writing your book. Of course, never one to completely follow directions, I’m reading it cover to cover and will then go back and work my way through the steps.  I like to see the big picture first.

The first chapter is titled, “Becoming a Picture Book Scholar,” hence the subject of this week’s blog post. The very first sentence in the chapter sets the tone of the author’s matter-of-fact, straightforward manner.  She says, “Having had your appendix out doesn’t qualify you to perform an appendectomy, so why should having seen picture books as a child qualify you to write one?” Touché.  I love it!

Photo by Wokandapix from Canva

So how do we become a picture book scholar?

Of course the author recommends, reading, reading, and more reading, and I am more than happy to comply.  This advice also inspired me to start this blog so I could write picture book reviews while learning the craft. As I study each new book, I am amazed at the creativity and in awe of the number of wonderful stories there are available in picture book format. It is so inspiring!

Following are a few of my takeaways on some of the topics covered in the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books.”

Everything is a New Adventure

Children create an adventure out of anything and everything. They are curious, full of wonder, open to trying new things. They see things from a different perspective. Imagine for a day that everything is new. If you have a hard time imagining something as new, seek out something that IS new to you. Research a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about or a place you’ve always wanted to visit. How do you feel when tackling something new? Do you treat it like a new adventure or are you more reserved and cautious? Try to look through a different lens and return to the natural wonder and curiosity of a child.  It will change your whole attitude.

It IS a big deal.

As a child, everything matters.  Everything is important.  Children care deeply about everything. Your little guy may have a t-shirt he wants to wear every single day.  It’s his favorite. It matters. As an adult, we know it needs to be washed, but this will come at no small price to him.  He feels strongly about wearing that t-shirt. Think about something that matters deeply to you.  Multiply that times “everything matters” and write with those emotions.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.

Ann Whitford Paul recommends printing a sign or writing a sticky note and putting it where you work and will see it while you are writing that says, “CHILDHOOD IS NOT ALL SILLY AND JOYFUL.” As parents, we sometimes like to shield our children from all things unhappy, but that is doing them a disservice. I do love a good happy story, who doesn’t? But, the reality is we learn about life through our challenges. What we can do as responsible adults is to be thoughtful while remaining realistic when introducing tough topics to our kids by teaching through compassion and empathy.

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

There’s a lot to learn on the road to becoming a picture book scholar.  I think the biggest takeaway I have from reading the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books” is to call on your inner child.  Treat everything like a new adventure, imagine it IS a big deal and everything matters and is important. Tapping into the essence of your child-likeness could very well inspire your next picture book.

For more information

NOTE: I purchased my copy of this book from Amazon. This is not a book review, though I do highly recommend it for whatever stage you are at on your writing journey. You can purchase “Writing Picture Books” on Amazon and through the links on the pictures below. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small compensation for purchases made through the links on my website. Full disclosure notice here.

I am reading the first edition, located here.

There is also a revised, expanded version, available here.

How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing? Am I the only one hampered with distractions? While searching the internet the other day, (conducting research of course), I came across a pitch generator that uses the letters of your name to determine how you should pitch your book idea to publishers.

According to this generator, my pitch using my first name should be for a “high-voltage tragedy about an exuberant ghost’s failure.” Well, that was so much fun I tried it again with my last name. Then my brother’s name, then my third cousin’s name…you get a clear picture of my afternoon, right? A session that began with a specific plan, ended with letting distraction stand in the way of productivity. Anyone ever play “predictive text” on Twitter? That can distract for hours!

Going down the rabbit hole.

It all started with the blank page, my biggest obstacle.  All that whiteness creates overwhelming anxiety for me. While some writers see a blank page as an opportunity for total creative freedom, I just freeze.  So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

To answer this question I had to consider what actually works best for me, not what everyone says should work for me.  Realizing that trying to fit within “accepted norms” wasn’t helping, I set out to determine three things that hinder my productivity, and come up with a plan to create new habits to help my focus.  Here is what I discovered:

I am a perfectionist.

That old “do it right or don’t do it at all” philosophy somehow became my mantra, and it is quite a burden. It is challenging for me to write a first draft of anything, whether it’s a book review, an article, or an outline for a story idea, because I have this notion that everything must flow from my mind to the paper in perfect form. I’m sure you can guess how this is working out for me. To get over the fear of the blank page I started jotting down my random thoughts into files on my computer and saving each thought in a separate document.  This helps me in two areas: there isn’t a blank page to contend with, and since there is already the start of a rough draft on the page, it releases me from perfectionism.  It’s not fool-proof, but it has been helping.

My inner critic is brutal.

There is a little “mean girl” inside my head just messing with my creativity, and filling my head with doubts about my ability to write. This is tough. The key here is to set my work aside for a day or two when possible. This appeases my inner critic by accepting there may be some changes needed. I usually find that I return to the project with a clearer head and am more able to see which areas need improvement, without using any negative self-talk.

Setting goals is counterproductive for me.

This doesn’t even make sense, but as soon as I set a goal, that voice inside my head starts saying things like, “You can’t do that,” or some other such nonsense. This is not just a writing phenomenon with me either, as I discovered one day while exercising with my husband.

We typically walk around the lake close to our home a couple of times each week.  It’s really beautiful and is a nice change of pace.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to build up my endurance by setting short jogging goals.  It never fails – as soon as I say, “I’m going to run to the next tree,” the task becomes impossible to accomplish. It seems the tree actually keeps moving farther away, my body starts protesting, and it’s harder to breathe. It’s really quite a sight. Yet, if I don’t set goals, how can I push myself?  I’ve found that by setting an “intention” to do the best I can rather than a hard-fast goal, I am more successful.

The reality?

The reality is we are all a work-in-progress. Just being aware of the things that stall productivity can help.  If you find yourself in a situation that takes you away from your intentions, it’s time to take a break. Be gentle with yourself. Get a cup of tea or a snack. Go outside and do some yard work.  Or just stretch.  Whatever works for YOU.  By moving the focus away from the things that aren’t working and concentrating on developing realistic long-term habits, you are creating the best possible environment for your own success.

So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

*This post originally published on

Sheri Hoyte Books
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