Dec 06

Looking Ahead to 2012

by Hannah Holt »


Every time I visit the grocery store, someone stops me to say, “I see you have your hands full.”

Well… yes.

I’ve learned many productive things this year (like the single-handed diaper-change), but most of my ongoing projects are simmering on the back-burner.

That’s why I’m excited to join my friend Julie’s writing challenge for 2012. The goal is to write 12 picture book manuscripts in the next year. This challenge is especially good for slackers like me because Julie says, “In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have 12, 4 or even 1 [picture book] drafted if you’ve gotten more accomplished by being in the group than by going it alone.”

I’m sold. Joining this group will give me a healthy kick in the pants while allowing me to maintaining sanity.

Because my top priorities are these guys:

But a little extra motivation in my writing wouldn’t hurt.

If you are a picture book writer or if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, visit Julie’s site and join the fun.

PS- Creation Station will be back next week with a big, fat Christmas activity book!

Dec 07

Authentic Dialog

by Hannah Holt »

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My son Michael* recently turned five. For the past year, I’ve been recording some of our conversations. Here’s sampling of dialog from when he was four years and three months old:

Michael: I had a busy day.

Josh (my husband): Why was it busy?

Michael: I did some very busy things.

Josh: What did you do?

Michael: I lifted some snow.

Me: What did you do after that?

Michael: I cut a piece of paper with scissors.

Me: And what happened next?

Michael: I went to time-out.

Me: Oh, did you play with scissors without asking first?

Josh: That’s exactly what happened.

Me: So what did you do after time-out?

Michael: I got a chance.

Me: You mean you got a second chance?

Michael: Yeah, then I gave Daddy a hug.


On another day, apparently out of the blue…

Michael: How many weeks until we die?

Me: Well, most people live until they are about eighty, and you are only four… So lots and lots and lots of weeks.

Michael: Did we die already?

Me: No… we are still alive, and I love being with you right here on earth.

Michael: I love you too Mom.


During a game of hide-and-go-seek, I heard the boys have this conversation…

Michael (to Grant* my two-year-old): I found you.

Grant: Da.

Michael: Where’s Mommy? Did she disappear?

Grant: (no response)

Michael: Yes, she did disappear! (walking around the house) Mommy, where are you?

Grant: Mommy.

Michael: Oh my gosh! She disappeared. (opening the fridge) She’s not in there (closing the fridge). Hmmmm. (opening the fridge again) Grant, do you want a sandwich?

Grant: Ya!

Michael: Which one do you want?

Grant: Da.

Michael: Just one. Mmmm. This is a good snack.

Grant: Da.

At this point, they had stopped looking for me, so I took the opportunity to sneak up behind them.

Me: What are you doing?

Michael and Grant: AAAAAAh!

Michael (offering me his sandwich): Here mom, I made a snack for you.


Here’s a conversation Josh recorded after I attempted to use Michael as messenger…

Hannah: We only have enough dough for one pizza. Go ask Daddy if he wants an all Hawaiian pizza or a half Hawaiian and half cheese pizza.

Michael: OK!

Michael (now in the office, mostly staring into the corner of the ceiling while talking): Uh, mom…dad [He calls Josh mom a lot on accident]. Do you want a whole pizza… or… or a small or large pizza… or… a large pizza… or half… a cheese sandwhich…. or a small pizza or…. a cheese sandwhich pizza?

Josh: Tell Mommy half and half.

Michael: OK!

Hannah (walking into the office, about 30 seconds later): Just to make sure, do you want a half Hawaiian, half cheese pizza?

Josh: Yes.

(L to R: Grant and Michael)

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Nov 11

Cut, Cut, Cut (My Creative Process- Part 2)

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

There are two paths I take when revising a story. So choose your own adventure…

Path 1

1. Write a complete first draft in one sitting (700-1,000 words). Laugh. Cry. Declare, “This is the best story EVER!”

2. Save and walk away.

3. The next day (or week), open my document and think, Who wrote this trash?

4. Mercilessly hack away at the story, cutting passive verbs, adverbs, wordy passages, whole paragraphs… Anything, that doesn’t strengthen the story (lose 200-500 words in this process).

5. Save and walk away.

6. Revisit the story several more times, asking: Is the point of view right? Do characters jump off the page? Could the ending be better? Is the story consistent…

7. Email the revised story to critique group.

8. Meet with critique group.

9. Take critique group comments home, ponder, scratch head, eat chocolate, and rewrite.

10. Then if major changes have been made, take story back to critique group.

11. And the editing cycle continues until the story is submitted to an editor or dumped into the recycle bin.

Path 2

1. Write a sentence or two. See a vision of grandeur… Get goosebumps. Stop.

2. Outline, save, and walk away.

3. Roll the story around in head for several weeks (sometimes months).

4. The story arrives one sentence at a time as if dropped from a magical mist.

5. Weigh each word carefully. Slowly, finish the first draft.

6. Save and walk away.

7. Come back. Wow, the story still looks great! However, fix a few typos and tighten a sentence here and there.

8. Email revised story to critique group.

At this point Path 2 picks up at the same place as Path 1… However, while most of my Path 1 stories eventually fall by the wayside, I’ve never written a Path 2 story that I didn’t eventually submit… and receive a positive editor’s letter in response.

Of course, Path 2 stories only happen about once a year for me. Path 1 stories make up most of my daily writing. For this reason, I think of Path 1 stories as my “pump priming” work.

What is your writing process?

(To Read Part 1 in this series click here.)

Nov 04

The Idea Machine (My Creative Process- Part 1)

by Hannah Holt »


Every book starts as an idea.

Ideas come easily enough. Five or more book ideas probably float through my head on any given day. However… if an idea stays with me… if an intriguing phrase pops into my head around that idea… if my first draft reveals substance (garbled substance, but substance nonetheless)… then I think about pursuing it further. I don’t keep a notebook of ideas; however, I do keep an electronic folder of partially explored ideas.

For example, one day, I was out running errands when I smelled burning paraffin. Oh, paraffin is a fun word! I want to write a story around the word paraffin.

So I wrote a picture book about a little girl, who goes on an adventure in a wax castle. It was a fanciful, magical, and allegorical story. Unfortunately, it was too abstract for young children. I loved the story, but it just wasn’t working.

Twenty drafts later, I took the story in a completely different direction. The revised story doesn’t contain any paraffin, but it is an enjoyable adventure filled with “ha-ha” and “ah-ha” age appropriate moments. It’s better. But still not finished. It’s languishing in the “partially explored idea folder.” Maybe I’ll read it a year from now and decide it’s worth polishing.

In my next post, I’ll describe my revision process. (To read Part 2, click here.)

Sep 30

Repetition. What repetition?

by Hannah Holt »

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Bruce Coville has called repetition “one of the Seven Deadly Sins for Writers.”

So, why do so many picture books use repetition? Are all of these authors sinners? Not necessarily.

Repetition can be an powerful and enjoyable pedagogical tool for very young children. Here’s just one example where repetition (of the dinner bell) produced extreme excitement in my young son:

Of course, whether repetition is a tool or crutch depends on its use.

Evil Uses of Repetition

1) Plagiarism

2) Lazy writing (It was a special day. Jane picked up her special toy, and walked to her special place…)

3) Cliché

4) Inane refrains like this:

Effective Uses of Repetition

1) Poetic refrains

2) Transition signals

3) Establishing an authentic narrative voice (e.g., you have a child narrator)

Going back to the video of my son, once we discovered his predictable dinner bell response, we abused the bell for our amusement. We rang it often and didn’t always give him food afterwards. Consequently, he soon stopped running every time it rang. Overused repetition in writing creates the same sort of disinterest, and DULLNESS is the #1 Deadly Sin for writers.

So when using repetition, ask the questions:

-What is the intended response?

-Am I accomplishing my intended response?

-What is the most effective language and set-up?

Now, how many times did I use the word repetition in this post?