Amanda, Deconstructed



There are four main categories of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): checking, hoarding, contamination, and intrusive thoughts.

The type of obsessive compulsive disorder I have is not like the kind you see on television. The kind where you feel bugs crawling all over you if you don’t wash your hands a certain way, or where you have to count cracks in the sidewalk, or where everything has to be an even number (although I do prefer even to odd like any sane person).

The type of obsessive compulsive disorder I have leaves me with an inability to concentrate if everything isn’t immediately fine. If something slightly amiss happens with one of my friends, my worries keep me up at night until I’m tossing and turning and in a panic. If I’ve got something hanging over my head for more than a minute, my OCD makes it so I can’t eat or focus on anything until it’s fixed. This is what having intrusive thoughts is like, and I hate it.

Intrusive thoughts leave me overanalyzing, jumping from moment to moment, conclusion to conclusion faster than if my life depended on it, which it does, because if everything’s not okay then what’s the point, what am I doing, why am I doing it, why does she hate me, what did I do wrong, how can I be better, how can I make people like me, how can I make these people see that this isn’t really who I am, how can I be better how can I be better how can I be better?

The type of obsessive compulsive disorder I have is the kind that makes me pull out my hair follicles one by one in an attempt to distract/detract/delineate my worries. I used to have to take showers before I went to sleep otherwise I wouldn’t be able to at all. It has me picking at the skin on the knuckle of my thumb until it’s bleeding and raw. It has me fingering my ring over and over, a rough callus in place where the skin should be smooth. It’s the kind that makes me hurt myself so I don’t hurt others. It is not something that makes me feel beautiful or quirky or cool. It makes me embarrassed. It makes me ashamed.

I almost wish I had the kind where I wash my hands and count.

I don’t want it. I never asked for it. But it’s a part of me, and it’s mine.

On Anxiety

This is what having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is like. This is how GAD feels.

It makes me feel like I can’t breathe– like someone is squeezing my chest, not very hard, but hard enough that it hurts and hard enough I can feel it every time I take a breath.

It makes my head ache– it makes my eyes heavy and watery and my shoulders sag and my hands sweat.

It makes me itchy– itch itch itch, like I have a place just out of reach I can’t scratch and I can’t get to no matter how hard or how much I try, and I can’t stop trying because it’s always there, itch itch itch, bothering me, sneaking up on me, always there.

It makes me panic— my heart racing, my fingers twitching, the world spinning. This is maybe the most obvious part. This is maybe the worst part.

It makes me doubt myself and doubt the people that care about me and that I care about and it hurts- oh man it hurts. And it itches and it aches and there’s nothing I can do except hold it in until I burst. It won’t go away since I’ve been here. It hasn’t gone away all summer. I’m afraid it’ll never go away. And I don’t want to play this game anymore.

On Depression

There is no acronym for depression for me. Depression just is.

Depression is heavy. It feels heavy. It forces you to stay in bed for hours at a time, thinking about nothing, thinking everything that’s wrong with your life, and feeling bad for yourself. It makes you disassociate and not recognize your own privilege and what you have that other people don’t. It makes you lose all motivation to try. It makes you lose all motivation to get out of bed. It makes you lose all motivation to reach out to people— to socialize, to reach out for help. It makes you lose all ambition. It makes you pity yourself. It makes you cry until you feel like you can’t cry anymore, but then what else are you supposed to do?

Depression comes in waves. And the waves are painful— they rise up and they take over and fall down over your head and press on your chest and your brain and everything that mattered to you before doesn’t matter anymore because what else could you possibly deal with right now other than this pain?

Spending time with people helps. Being busy helps.

It’s so hopeless, sometimes.

There are days when I just want to reach out for my dad’s hand and not let go and have him make it okay. He is my constant. My sister is the other. But you can’t put all of your feelings and all of your pain onto people. That is just not fair.

On Getting Better

Everyone’s got their shit. This is mine.

My junior year of college I decided it was time for me to get better. Things had gotten bad enough that I knew I needed to change now or I would get worse. I’ve gotten to that point a few times, and this was one of those times.

Full disclosure: I had seen a counselor in Ithaca a few times, and they were the ones that diagnosed me with OCD and GAD and depression (not necessarily in that order) which helped me understand myself and what was going on with me a little more. But the Ithaca College counseling and therapy program is so severely understaffed and poorly funded that there was only someone available to see me every 2 1/2 weeks. I saw the psychiatrist at school (it took me two months to make an appointment) and he prescribed me Zoloft, so I tried Zoloft. I tried Lexapro. I tried some other things he gave me, too. But they never really worked right for me, or how I thought they were supposed to. My junior year I was in a relationship with a boy who told me he didn’t like how I was when I was on antidepressants, and asked me to stop taking them. So I stopped taking them for a while for him, but that made things worse. I started talking to a psychologist off campus and met with her for a semester, but she just wasn’t a good match for me.

And when you’ve tried enough times and when it’s hard for you to try in the first place, sometimes it’s easier to just give up.

I think that the worst part about mental illness is the lack of control you feel when things feel bad. They say that happiness is a choice, but with mental illness I don’t think it is, and maybe that’s a controversial thing to say. Sometimes you can’t control how you feel. You just have to let it pass, or you have to talk to someone about it or you have to take medication or you have to do both but either way, all of those things help you reflect on it and learn from it so you can just let it pass.

Do you ever think sometimes that you aren’t meant to be happy? People always say that you are not your mental illness, but it always feels like the other way around for me. Without my anxiety, I wouldn’t talk as fast as I do.  I wouldn’t be so Type A, and that’s where most of my motivation and ambition and perfectionism comes from. Sometimes it helps, but a lot of the time it doesn’t. It feels hopeless— like I’m disappearing into my anxiety, depression, and OCD. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself when it gets really bad, and that scares me.

You have to want to get better. But sometimes I don’t even want to. Sometimes I do want to lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and commiserating. And sometimes I do want to be obsessively checking my phone to see if she/he texted me or snapchatted me back, and sometimes I do want to pick at my thumbs and shower constantly. These are my coping mechanisms. These are what I do to deal with how I feel. They’re not healthy, they just are.

People write about this stuff all the time online— saying that it’ll get better, and that things will be okay. Which is great! It’s so nice and supportive and encouraging! I’m sorry I’m not here to tell you or anyone that, as is probably evident from this post. I just want to know what to do when you’re just not okay.

I’m not writing this to make you feel bad for me. I’m not writing this for attention. I’m writing this to tell my story and experiences with mental illness thus far. I’m writing this because writing is another coping mechanism, another way to reflect on how I feel and who I am. Putting it out there in the world helps– it helps because I’m unapologetically like this and I know it and I don’t  care who knows and here it is, right here on my blog for you to read and see. I’m writing this because I’ve tried and I’m tired of trying and I’m still trying even if it doesn’t seem like I am.

And that’s all I have to say on this at the moment.

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Amanda Moves to the Big Apple

IMG_9325.jpgI have come home every day for the last three weeks exhausted. My feet aching, my ankles covered in blisters from shoes that I believed to be comfortable but have thus far betrayed me, my back damp from sweating on the subway platform and my hair frizzy from the humid city air. (Gross, I know. I’m a vision.)

Every time I make it home I feel relieved because I’m back in the safe haven that is my concrete basement apartment that seems to be perpetually a work in progress. But it is familiar and predictable, and for that, I am grateful.

New York City is not familiar and predictable. You could step in dog shit accidentally and not notice all day or miss an e-mail telling you not to come into the office until 11 when you woke up at 6 or be on the wrong subway for 20 minutes and not realize it. The city is not predictable, but my apartment is predictable. My apartment is slow-moving, and my roommate is loving and comforting, where the city is not. And I relish in those facts.

I graduated in May and all I’ve been thinking about all summer is how much I want to go back. Things were so much easier in college and I realize now that, while I did not take many of the professional and networking and classes for granted (I did pretty much all I could do and interned and worked nonstop. Yeah, this is a humble-brag), I definitely took the social aspect of college for granted, except maybe my last semester of college where I lived for going out on Thursday nights for karaoke.

In college, all your friends are right there, all the time. You could text your girl friend and ask her if she wanted to get a drink with you or watch a movie and she could say yes and then you’d both be at Viva, frozen margarita in hand, or splayed out on the couch in front of your roommate’s Apple TV in 10 minutes. 

In the city, hanging out with someone is an ordeal. You have to text someone hours, sometimes days in advance. You have to find somewhere to meet that’s in between where you both live/work or it’s a hassle for both of you. I work most days from 10 am-5 pm, so I can’t do really anything during the day. Classes at NYU start next week, so then I’ll be there doing that from 6:30-9 pm, and then the day is over and then I’m going to pass out from exhaustion and the hectic city work-class-sleep-repeat cycle will start all over.

I’ve been having not the easiest time mental health-wise here. I’m going to be honest– transitioning from Ithaca to Harlem has been HARD. Other than transitioning from living in Croton to living in Ithaca when I was 18 years old, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in the city. I always wanted to know the city like my dad knows it. The city has ENERGY. The city is ALIVE. There are always people doing things– moving, thinking, creating, living. The city is where all of the people who are doing the things that I want to be doing, working in book publishing, lived and thrived, and when I was a kid I would think all the time about how, one day, I was going to be one of them.

I have been here for almost a month, and I am learning that it is a lot harder to be one of those living and thriving people when New York keeps kicking my ass with its vastness and its unpredictability.

I have learned that I am terrible at dealing with change (but I kind of knew that already. Moving here has just reiterated that). And I have learned that New York is a really hard place to live. It toughens you up, and I was not a tough person to begin with. I am basically an uncooked noodle in the boiling pot of water that is New York. (I realize that that was a terrible visual comparison but I’m going to leave it anyway because now I’m rereading this blog post and cracking up.)

Here is what I’ve learned so far: New York makes you try. You can’t just exist here. You have to be actively existing– doing things to make money, better yourself, talk to people and find human connections. The city out there is scary, and I’ve learned that I have to dive right in, no toe dipping, diving, or I’m going to fail, and failing is not an option for me.

Classes at NYU start in a week and a half (!!), and I am scared out of my mind. I’ve heard that the professors and students in my program are really nice and supportive, which is encouraging. I know I’m going to have to dive in order to survive there, and I’m terrified about that. I have been feeling kind of defeated, but what I think I have to do is just get used to living here, toughen up a little bit and find where I belong, and everything will eventually fall into place.

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10 Things I Learned as an Arts/Entertainment Writer at the Ithaca Times

Not to brag, (commence bragging) but I know a lot about a lot of different kinds of writing. I mean, I was a writing major at IC. I took classes in feature writing, all different types of essays, personal, academic, you name it, professional/business writing, creative nonfiction, fiction, children’s literature, editing… I would say that I know what I’m doing when it comes to that stuff, more or less.

I’ve had experience in being an editor and in feature writing and in teaching writing and in writing copy, but something I found I was lacking in: skills in straight up journalism.

Journalistic writing is one of those writing styles that never appealed to me, but that’s also because I never really tried doing it. It’s so straightforward– it’s all facts. You have to be unbiased, and that eliminates most (if not all) of the creative elements that make writing fun.

I knew that I wanted to spend the summer in Ithaca — they say that you need at least one Ithaca summer, and this was it –so I started researching options for what I could do in my last few months here. I found that some of my fellow writing majors and copy editors I knew when I copy edited for The Ithacan (shoutout to Christie Citranglo and Jessica Afrin) had worked at the Ithaca Times, a local newspaper (print and online) that emphasized community and culture in Ithaca and Tompkins County. I love Ithaca and I thought that it would be worth it to expand my writing repertoire and look into the world of journalism.

With the help of Barbara Adams, director of the Writing internship program at IC, I sent an e-mail to Nick Reynolds at the Ithaca Times. Within two days I had a freelance job there as an arts and entertainment writer, and started writing for them in May.


My first day on the job.

It was a freelance position, and I learned a lot about journalism and what it meant to be a journalist. I sat in on editorial meetings. I drove all around Ithaca and Tompkins County and cold called/e-mailed people to interview them. I wrote exclusively in and refreshed what I knew about AP Style.

Journalistic writing is a multifaceted style of writing. While simple and less artistic than other kinds of writing I’ve done, there are a lot of different and important parts to it. For example, ethics really matter in journalism. So does accuracy in terms of facts and quotes. Clarity in your writing is so important– clearly communicating what you’re trying to say helps you reach your audience. Sometimes you get to have fun and be creative with your openers and closers. And it’s always really cool to see your name in print and know that what you write about matters to people.

Journalism isn’t just about a simpler style of writing– it’s about helping people access information they need or didn’t know they needed to know. It’s about public relations, in my opinion, especially when it came to the topics that I wrote about this summer.

This summer with the Ithaca Times was an extremely valuable experience. It taught me about journalism, networking, and all that Ithaca and Tompkins County has to offer, and made me feel closer to Ithaca than ever before.

Click here for a link to my article about States of Mind Literary Magazine.

Click here for a link to my article about Woofstock, an animal shelter fundraiser Americana Vineyards holds annually.

Click here for a link to my article about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Suzanne Bloom.

Click here for a link to my article about Vagabon, an artist that performed at the Haunt.

Click here for a link to my article about And the Sparrow Fell by Robert Mrazek.

Below I’ve written 10 things I learned from working this summer as an arts and entertainment writer at the Ithaca Times. Enjoy!

  1. You have to have at least 3 sources to write a full-fledged, all-encompassing article.
  2. Reaching out to people and not hearing back — especially when you’re under a deadline and you need a quote — is nerve wracking and stressful, but it’s always worth it to try.
  3. You! Have! To! Follow! Deadlines! Other editors and designers depend on you to produce content for a certain issue/date. It is irresponsible and unprofessional to let them down.
  4. Save all of the articles you write, whether that’s in print form, online link, or PDF. That way you can add it to your professional portfolio.
  5. There are lots of ways you can get creative with journalistic writing. You can write funny hooks to draw people in. You can switch up your angle so that people see a topic or a person or an event differently. You can add a creative closer/conclusion. You can add a title that grabs the reader’s attention.
  6. When interviewing, ask as many questions as you can. That way, when you write your article, you can switch up or change your focus with ease.
  7. Sometimes you can’t wait for your editor to assign you a topic. Be constantly brainstorming and thinking of ideas and things to write about.
  8. You should communicate consistently with your editor about photographing the event that your article is based on, deadlines, as well as article ideas.
  9. Make sure you’re getting compensated fairly for the work that you put in. Freelance is hard because sometimes it doesn’t pay very well.
  10. Stay connected to the community and get as involved as you can. That way you know what’s going on and have more things to write about.

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Amanda Graduates College


Well… It’s over. I graduated college. And yeah, I’m not done with school forever (I’m heading to NYU in the fall to get my masters in Publishing: Digital and Print Media), but no more taking classes at IC for me (and no more ICC for me either!!!!)! Hooray! I’m not going to see the same people every day– the fellow students and friends and faculty in the community that I’ve come to love (and tolerate and deal with), and that’s both okay and not okay.

The past few weeks have been a blur. I’ve tried to get in quality time with the people that matter to me, but it’s been hard with graduation inching closer and closer. My friend Marisa, whether she realizes it or not, kept saying “This is the last time we…” at the beginning of a lot of her sentences, and I refused to accept that fact. I still refuse to accept it. I knew that all of this was going to end eventually.

What does it mean for all of this to end, anyway? I’m glad that there are some people I won’t have to see or deal with, maybe ever again (except on social media). So that’ll be the end of that, I guess. Regarding people who you don’t have great relationships with, my dad always says that you have to make them matter less. So they’ll matter less because I won’t have to see them ever again at all. (!)

On a somewhat different note, they say that you need at least one Ithaca summer. So I’m here til August, working at The Ithaca Times. And maybe that’s part of the reason why I haven’t accepted that I graduated from IC. I’m still here, even if a lot of people aren’t. It just doesn’t feel like it ended. There are people I know who are also staying for the summer. People will still be coming back in the fall, even if I’m leaving. Kids just keep cycling through. College is still happening, even if I don’t go here.

There are a lot of people that graduated with a lot of ????????? feelings, meaning they don’t know what they’re doing next, whether that means getting a job or going to grad school or what. And that’s fine! It’s okay to not know! It’s okay to still be figuring things out!

I’m graduating with more !!!!!!!!!!!!!! feelings. I’m lucky to have a plan and set things for me to figure out in the coming months, and to have people to support and help me through it. But it’s still scary that I won’t be coming back to school here in the fall. It’s scary that things are a little uncertain, even if I have a plan.

I remember how much I used to hate it here. I’ve been looking back at my reflections from when I was a freshman and from when I was a sophomore. Freshman year I was sad and alone. I had a boyfriend who lived in Buffalo, and I thought that was all I needed. But it turned out to not be enough. I had 3 great friends, and then I didn’t (my own fault). (We’re all on good terms now, which I am grateful for.) I left Ithaca without really anybody. I forced myself to figure out who I was without my boyfriend and without anyone else. I was not excited to come back in the fall, I was on the verge of transferring…

But I came back to give it a second chance. My dad always says that people need second chances, and so did Ithaca. I remember going to the A&E Center to pick up my keys to my new dorm room in August of 2014 and running into Sam Brodsky, who I knew from Intro to Poetry. She was a person I greeted with a hug and a smile, and someone who was actually happy to see me. She was a friend. And that’s why I decided to stay. That’s why I made my goal for sophomore year Amanda makes friends.

Thank you Sam, for being my friend all four years. Thank you for listening to me cry and for reading my writing and for being my person. Thank you for being a deciding factor in me staying.

That year I met and became friends with a lot of people, who I almost named here but decided against. All of these people who– some who aren’t in my life anymore, some who still are, some who I’m close with and some who I’m not, some who I can wave at in the hallway and smile at, are the reasons I stayed. My sophomore year was probably the best year of my college experience. I made friends, I lost friends, but I found a place where I belonged, more or less. Sophomore year is when Ithaca became home.

I didn’t write a reflection post-junior year because I was afraid. This is the hardest thing for me to write about because I’m still kind of afraid– of people brushing off my feelings and what I write about because they don’t like me. I’m afraid of people making judgments about what I have to say and about me because they don’t like me. But honestly– that’s dumb. I shouldn’t care about what people think of me. And this is my space to say what I think.

Last year I was in a not-so-great relationship with a boy, and that boy came with a lot of baggage. I lost a lot of friends because I made the decision to be with him. I received mean, anonymous messages on Tumblr– I even got a death threat. I was ostracized from a lot of people. I felt uncomfortable in Ithaca. I felt like I didn’t matter. I made myself small and take up less space in the world so I couldn’t hurt or bother anybody that I had hurt by being in a relationship with him. I stopped writing. And no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t, I was really unhappy in that relationship and with myself. The only people that could see it were my friends who tried to warn me. Sabina tried to do something about it, but I wouldn’t listen to her.

The summer after junior year I had so much anxiety about my relationship with this boy and maintaining my relationship with this boy that I developed a sort of eating disorder. I was playing a hunger game with myself. I lost so much weight that my clothes didn’t fit. I was so hungry all the time I could barely concentrate. I stopped brushing my teeth. I stopped taking my medication. My trichotillomania started acting up again, and my obsessive compulsive disorder became harder and harder to handle. I didn’t put on makeup for work. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I didn’t care about myself, and this boy didn’t really act like he did either.

Eventually we broke up, but enough damage had been caused by my relationship with him that it affected my relationships and friendships with other people in Ithaca. And that is what hurt the most. It made Ithaca less of a home for me. Sabina said to me on the last night I saw her (she’s going to Europe for a while post-grad) that our friendship hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it, which meant so much to me that I cried in the middle of Moonie’s.

Coming into senior year trying to deal with the repercussions of my relationship with this boy was really hard. People still don’t like me because I dated him. I hurt people because I dated him. And for that I am genuinely sorry. It was selfish of me, but I got hurt in my relationship with him too. This is something that I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, and now I feel like I can put it out there. I’m saying this because I want people to understand it was hard for me, and that I’m sorry.

Senior year was a year of recovery. It was a year of growing and moving on. It was a year of finding somewhere that I belonged. It was a year of not giving a shit about what other people think of me, or at least to a lesser degree. It was about doing my best and living my life for myself and my future, not anyone else.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of home. I didn’t feel like my mom’s house was home when I lived there. I don’t feel like my dad’s house is home anymore, not that I ever really did. My freshman year I lived alone in a single room and I hated it. My sophomore year my roommate and I didn’t get along. My junior year roommates and I struggled with keeping the status quo in our apartment.

This year, in my house on Hudson Street, I found a group of people that I could have fun with and be myself with– a group of people who were truly supportive and kind and who gave me a place that was mine. They made Ithaca feel like home for me, and for that I am grateful too. Thank you, Alexa, Kaitlin, Dom, Evan, Luke Waldner. Thank you thank you thank you.

I found a home in IC Women in Communications– this semester I had the honor and privilege of being president of a group that I’ve been a part of for all four years of school. WIC has always meant so much to me (how many times have I written about it on this blog?). My e-board and general body members have always been so supportive– WIC is a club dedicated to professionalism and women in communications, but we were also friends, and we became really close. WIC helped me find a sense of belonging here, and for that I am also grateful. Thank you to my Spring 2017 e-board– Lexy, Allie, Natalie, Kiersten, Madi, Emma– for lending an ear and a hug when I needed it this semester.

I think that what I’ve looked for all four years of college is a place where I belonged. I wanted people to like me and want to spend time with me. I wanted friends. I wanted people who would listen to me and who I could trust with myself. I wanted a place that felt like I was supposed to be there. It took me a really long time to find all that and figure myself out in terms of that, but I found it here in Ithaca and I’m not ready for it to be over.

In August I move to New York with Siena to attend NYU and I have to figure out where I belong all over again. That is what these !!!!!!!!!!! feelings are. They’re about finding a place and finding people and finding what I’m all about somewhere else. I will be under construction in New York instead of Ithaca, and I’m scared.

Right now I am lucky to have found my voice again. I’m happy I can be honest with myself and with everyone else on here. I graduated college. We’ll see how everything else goes.

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Working for Hire in the Educational Market


In last week’s shoptalk meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, we talked about the educational market and working for hire. Members collectively asked and answered questions about these topics, which I’ve outlined below if you’re interested in working fore hire as a writer.

What materials are published in the educational market? 

There are many opportunities to get your writing out there and get published in the educational market. You can write lesson plans, manuals, test passages, text books, test questions, biographies, and all different types of nonfiction educational material. Most educational writing is work for hire. 5386189.jpg

What does it mean to work for hire

When you work for hire in the book publishing industry,  you, as a writer, can propose an idea, but it’s more likely that a publisher/packager will assign you something to write that you will be compensated for upon completion.

It’s great to work for hire because it gives you a guaranteed income and publication credits. You also don’t have to worry about formatting your book, or artwork and photos that will accompany your text. (Keep in mind that you don’t receive book royalties and you don’t own the copyright on your own material, which you might have issue with as a producer of content.)

What is a book packaging company?

A book packaging company is a company that is hired by publishers to get specific books/topics produced by writers. They work as the middle man between you and the book publisher. They’re more likely to hire work for hire writers than publishers because they pay writers less so they can profit more off of publishers.

How do I find a work for hire company to send my work to?

Check out these websites/books for market lists:

  • (Children’s author Evelyn Christensen has a page of links to publishers of educational material.)
  • (The Editorial Freelancers Association)
  • (a trade group for book packagers)
  • (
  • (Association of Educational Publishers)
  • NFforKids Yahoo Group (a listserv for the discussion of writing, marketing, and publishing nonfiction books for children)
  • Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career by Nancy I. Sanders

Some more fun stuff about working for hire and the educational market:

  • The biggest employers of work for hire writers are educational publishers and book packaging companies.
  • Book packagers and publishers determine how the book will be formatted– meaning, chapters, word count, side bars, even the targeted reading level, will be decided beforehand.
  • You don’t have to fact check when you write educational materials, but you do have to cite your sources when you submit.
  • Writing for the educational market doesn’t pay very much, but adds to your writing experience as well as publishing experience, and can open doors to other publishing opportunities.

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The Value of Stories and Storytelling

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This week’s meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offered a presentation by storytelling experts, Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton. Mitch and Martha have dedicated their lives to storytelling. Starting to collaborate in storytelling in Ithaca, New York, Mitch and Martha have been writing children’s stories together for over 36 years (just as long as they’ve been married!). Check out their website here, and the clip below to see a sample of their performance from the meeting.

Mitch and Martha specialize in telling stories based off of other stories, like fables and folktales. Retelling these short and simple fundamental stories help children tell stories of their own. Many famous authors have taken old stories and their ideas and recreated them. For example, The Rough Faced Girl by Rafe Martin, Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson, and Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story by Tomie dePaola are all retellings of the classic fairytale Cinderella.

In retelling stories, Mitch and Martha emphasize that you must change the title and tell the story in your own words while still respecting the general outline/plot of the original story. You also have to give credit where credit is due.

Mitch and Martha’s first collection of stories was called Stories in my Pocket. It was published by a small publishing house called August House that specializes in storytelling, and they continued to publish books there, along with their collaborative work with Ted Arnold at other houses.


Fly Guy books written & illustrated by Ted Arnold

Ted Arnold is a famous children’s book illustrator, of Fly Guy and Parts fame. Mitch and Martha pitched an idea to Ted Arnold about illustrating stories with noodlehead characters (pictured below), and he loved it. They ended up sending their idea to Scholastic and then to Holiday House, a smaller book publishing company in New York City.


Hey, who are you calling a noodlehead?

On their website, Mitch and Martha talk about the importance of teaching students the craft of storytelling:

It’s difficult to be successful if you’re not a good communicator and communication is, at its most basic level, the ability to tell a story well, whether to one person or to a group. Most of us will use reading and writing in our chosen professions, but all of us will use speaking and listening. Yet in the past, these two literacy skills have received little attention compared to reading and writing. There is growing recognition among educators that literacy is more effectively taught when reading, writing, speaking, and listening are seen as connected and equally important.

In my Multimodal Literacy class, I’ve learned that this is definitely true. Learning to actively listen as well as speak are two skills that have been undervalued in most education systems. Learning how to tell stories increases self-esteem, it’s inclusive, improves kid’s listening skills…Storytelling is how we pass down values and beliefs. Rather than memorize facts, we remember the essential information and how it makes us feel. It helps kids be more articulate when speaking. Learning a story rather than memorizing a story essentially ensures a better understanding of its meaning and craft. It also encourages critical thinking and creative writing, as well as a love and appreciation for other cultures and places.

This also brings me back to what working at Writopia has taught me and preaches– writing stories and giving students the space they need to write and think critically and creatively is so important in their personal development. Writing and storytelling helps kids communicate and understand themselves and the world a little better, and that is incredibly valuable. I think that Mitch and Martha understand that value, and it was really heartwarming to see them work together, talk about their books and stories, and perform for us.

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Bold Beginnings: How to Hone Your Opening

Read the following:

  • “My alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. I yawned, got out of bed, walked to the bathroom, and started to brush my teeth. I was so excited to see Taylor Swift in concert tonight!’Jess, come downstairs! I have something important to tell you,’ I heard Mama shout from the kitchen.”
  • “The night Taylor Swift fell from the stage was the same night Mama told me I was adopted, and I’m not sure what broke my heart more.”

If you picked up a book in a bookstore and it had one of these bullet points as a first sentence/paragraph, which would you be more inclined to buy and read? Which would you be more interested in?

I, for one, would definitely be more interested in the book that starts off with the second bullet point. It catches my attention, it starts off with rising action, and it makes me want to read more.

The second shoptalk meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators I attended at my local Barnes & Noble was hosted by Rob Costello, a representative from the Highlights Foundation (an organization that holds workshops for children’s book authors and illustrators — check out their website to learn more!) and a young adult fiction writer. He focused the shoptalk specifically on the importance of a good novel opening, and on the dos and don’ts of how to write one.

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Good openings to novels help make what you’re writing appeal to readers. Generally speaking, if the first page/line doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, you’ve lost 50% of your potential audience. Former literary agent Leslie Daniels says that if the first line doesn’t grab her, the manuscript goes back in the pile (which is kind of depressing, if you ask me).

That being said, the main job of a book’s opening is to hook the reader. And openings are really hard to get right! You have to include information about background and characters that seem critically relevant and necessary to explain, all the while maintaining the reader’s interest.

There are two types of openings that Mr. Costello warned us not to start with:

  1. Data Dump Opening— when you overwhelm the reader with facts about your protagonist that don’t really matter. Example: Describing the physicality of your main character right off the bat isn’t all that interesting.
  2. Steady State Opening— when you provide background information/set up the scene before inciting an incident. Normal life isn’t interesting! And it’s no way to hook a reader.

Mr. Costello also warned us not to begin with dialogue or backstory or a dream or a prologue.

He also warned us that many people (including him) will tell you not to begin with dialogue or backstory or a dream or a prologue, but that these rules don’t apply to everything. If you demonstrate sufficient skills as a writer and hook the reader, anything you write can work.

Something that always works is dissonance.

In the music world, dissonance means “a lack of harmony among musical notes.” In the literary world (and otherwise), dissonance means “a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.” It can be anything that’s counterintuitive, unsettling, contradictory– elements that grab the reader’s attention and force them to engage and ask questions

Dissonance works in novel openings because it disrupts the flow of the reader’s expectations in shocking ways. Taylor Swift fell off the stage at a concert and a protagonist’s mother telling her she’s adopted are two dissonant plot elements that clash and catch the reader’s attention, making them want to read more.

The easiest way to create dissonance in your opening is to begin with action. If you have action, there’s conflict. You can also create dissonance through setting, mood, and voice/tone. Anything that contradicts itself and grabs your reader’s attention works, and once you’ve grabbed your reader’s attention, you can test their patience by providing more expository information.

I’ve always found beginnings to be one of the hardest things to write. I never know where to start or how to start or how to start in a way that will make what I’m trying to say matter. I think, ultimately, that two things you have to keep in mind are your story and your reader. How can you make what you’re trying to say matter to the person that you want to read it and engage with it?

Just some things to keep in mind.

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