Laurel Snyder's BIG secret about creativity

Laurel Snyder's books are unique because she not only really and truly understands kids, but has a quality of imagination that is rare anywhere. In her novels, children root out mysteries, find magical treasures, and get entangled in perilous adventures. There is something deliciously old-fashioned about her work as she pulls us back into that beautiful micro-community of childhood and helps us remember the fun, the sadness, and the drama of it all. We are both huge fans  of Laurel's books and are honored to have her as our guest blogger. 

Laurel Snyder is the author of three novels for kids, Any Which Wall, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, and Penny Dreadful (fall, 2010). Her picture books include Inside the Slidy Diner and Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.  She also writes poems and makes up lots of silly songs, but her best creations so far are Mose (who is four and a half) and Lew (who is three). Laurel lives in Atlanta, and online at


A Spilling Ink Guest Post by, Laurel Snyder

Are you ready? I am going to tell you a BIG secret about creativity… 

It isn’t as creative as you think! 

Shhh . . . don’t tell anyone else!  If everyone knew this, EVERYONE would be writing books all day long, and there wouldn’t be anyone to tear the tickets at the movie theater, or make you grilled cheese sandwiches (though I suppose some very creative people make very wonderful sandwiches).

But really, it’s true—creativity is less creative than a lot of people imagine.

What do I mean by that? I mean that creativity works best when it has limitations. I mean that ideas don’t just zoom through the universe and slam into your head from out of nowhere. Ideas come from the world around you—from memories and experiences, from the things in your room, conversations you overhear, memories . . . I mean that creativity has to begin with something concrete.  

Like, if I ask you to stare at a blank sheet of paper and “write something good and creative” what happens?  You sit there awhile and scratch your head. Then, eventually, you look around your room, or out the window, or you think back over your day, or maybe books you’ve read, and find yourself a place to start. We all do that!

So for me, the best way to begin being creative is to set very rigid rules for myself. Like, if I want to write a poem I’ll think, “This poem should have 2 animals, a scientist, a kitchen appliance, and a body of water in it.” 

Then I write a really sloppy first draft of my poem, and what usually happens is that creativity gets to work in the spaces between those things. Creativity wanders along to connect those things.   Creativity is what I find when I see how those things bump up against each other.

Then, creativity happens again in revision. Because once I see that first draft, I might have a clear idea of the best possible version of the poem.  I might strip things away.  I might take out one of the animals, and swap the kitchen appliance for a garden tool.  I might ditch everything but the very best line, and start all over. Because once I see what I’m working with, creativity shows me how far I can take it!  Creativity teaches me what I didn’t know I could imagine.

And that’s what writing is for me. That what creativity is . . . having rules and limits that let me go wild in the spaces between.

If you don't believe me, or you’d do believe me, but you'd like an exercise to try, here’s something you might have fun with.  Take out that blank piece of paper, and hang it on the wall with a piece of tape. Stare at it for a minute. Then take another piece of paper, and draw a tiny little house in the center of the page.  When you're done, hang it up on your wall beside the fist (blank) page. Then walk away from them both.

But each time you pass by the two pieces of paper, I want you to think about them. I want you to imagine what might be on them.  And I bet, at the end of a few hours, the blank page will still be pretty blank, but you will know exactly who (or what) lives inside that little house . . .


P.S. This little video is very old, but I love it, and Scratchy just came out in paperback...

Thank you, Laurel! For a chance to win a copy of Spilling Ink, please leave a comment below - What are your secrets about getting creative? We'd LOVE to hear! Two winners will be chosen at random on May 9, 2010. Good luck! xo Anne & Ellen


Two Authors are Better Than One!

Ellen (left) and Anne
Ellen and I did our first school visit together last Friday at Belle Sherman School in Ithaca, NY. As you can see from these pictures, it went very well. Sorry, but we don't have ANY funny disaster stories to tell you! Except that I couldn't figure out how the bathroom sink worked. (Don't ask.) My daughter Mollie sat through our presentations and took pictures. When kids asked me where I got my ideas for Abby Hayes, all I had to do was point to her: "Sitting there in the back row!" My other favorite part of the day was watching Ellen demonstrate the element of surprise using a potato chip can and, um, something very surprising, which I won't spoil for you in case you're lucky enough to see her some day. And then Ellen demonstrated suspense with a thermos! I can't wait to do another appearance together...  

Ellen, Anne and spring flowers in Ithaca

Nancy Springer: "Hey Hey Play" (And, yes. Another book giveaway!)

Author, Nancy SpringerWe are delighted to have Nancy Springer as our second creativity blogger. She is the author of many, many wonderful and award-winning books (of course!) and both of us are huge fans of her Enola Holmes series. Ellen was the first to read the series. She raved about it so much that Anne had to run out and read it, too. Now Anne babbles praise for Enola to everyone who asks her for book recommendations. If you haven't read it yet, DO IT! Even if you think you're too old or too young. Enola Holmes is the kind of heroine that everyone can love. And you don't need Sherlock Holmes to find out why . . .

Born in New Jersey, Nancy moved to Pennsylvania when she was thirteen and spent the next forty-six years there, marrying a man named Springer, producing off-Springers, and writing more than fifty fantasy, horror, mystery and contemporary novels for adults and children.  In 2007 she and a second husband moved to Tri-County Airport in the Florida panhandle, at first living in the hangar, although they have now purchased a house.  Nancy very much enjoys the area wildflowers and butterflies, alligators and other lizards while completing THE CASE OF THE GYPSY GOOD-BYE:  AN ENOLA HOLMES MYSTERY, sixth volume of her series about Sherlock Holmes’s younger sister.  Her books have won her many honors, including two Edgar Allen Poe awards from the Mystery Writers of America.


Hey Hey Play

Nancy Springer 

Creativity starts with child’s play.  No matter how serious the material you’re writing, the key to success is playfulness – your ability to turn it around, try it a different way, imagine something new—play with it.  Right?  Right.

But if you’re all business in every other aspect of your life, can you expect to sit down to write and, just like that, become creative and playful?  Of course not.  Therefore, it’s part of your job description as a writer to go around being playful in whatever way appeals to you, within reason.

For instance: down the road from me lives a woman who has three large plaster ducks on her lawn.  When it’s raining, she puts ponchos on them.  Otherwise, she clothes them according to season, sundresses in summer, red frills for Valentine’s Day, sweaters in the fall, and of course their best outfits every Sunday.

Kind of reminds me of the time I bought a life-sized airbrushed ceramic groundhog at a garage sale, provided it with a flowered straw hat, then painted a portrait of it.

Not that one need go to such lengths.  Just being willing to get down on the floor with the baby and play with blocks will do the trick.  Or with any simple toy, a ball, a top, a doll with no name, a bowl of clay, a cardboard box and some crayons, and maybe you could manage without the baby.

Never mind what people think.  This sort of behavior not only nurtures creativity, but it can give you story ideas.  Me, I collect bottle caps, or maybe I ought to say carton caps, the bright colored plastic ones off orange juice and milk and fruit punch.  I have a bunch of them, red, white, pink yellow, orange green, blue, purple, in a basket, and no idea why I keep them.  But I did write a very good short story about a woman who collected bottle caps and did end up doing something with them.

My brother Ben, when he saw the bottle caps, arranged them into a circus ring and posed my little rubber horses on top of them.

By the way, he writes too.  

Thank you, Nancy! For a chance to win a copy of Spilling Ink, please leave a comment below - we'd love to hear what creativity means to you. Two winners will be chosen at random on April 25th, 2010. Good luck!


Back to the Drawing Board with special guest Matt Phelan (and a cool book giveaway!)

© Matt Phelan

Dear Teachers, Parents, Kids, Homeschoolers, Writers, Artists, Librarians, Readers, Curious Souls, and others, 

Our book, Spilling Ink, is coming out this week and we want to celebrate it. Imagine hundreds of brightly colored virtual balloons rising into the air, each one containing a special insight about creativity. That is what we hope to achieve with our Creativity Blog. Each month, a new guest blogger will share his or her thoughts about the creative process here on this page. We have an exciting lineup of amazing children’s book writers, so stay tuned! 

We’re thrilled to have Matt Phelan inaugurate the Creativity Blog. When we were writing Spilling Ink, we often chatted about what the illustrations should look like. “They should be full of warmth, life and fun,” we decided. “But they should have depth, sensitivity, and soul, too. ” It was up to our editor, Nan Mercado, to find the perfect artist. When we downloaded Matt’s first sketches for Spilling Ink, we were bowled over. Matt beautifully captured the spirit of our book in his drawings of young writers. They were everything we wanted and more.

Please make sure to read the very bottom of this post for a chance to win a copy of Spilling Ink in our giveaway. Enjoy, and thanks so much for stopping by! 

Anne and Ellen

Matt Phelan is the illustrator of Spilling Ink and many books for young readers, including, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal. In 2010 Matt's graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, was honored with the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  


I actually have a Drawing Board. It's big and old and it's where I both draw and write. I draw and write other places, too (the kitchen table, coffee shops, the zoo, waiting rooms) but the drawing board is where the real creativity tends to happen. And when I am being creativesketching, doodling, jotting notes or refining a final illustration – I feel absolutely exhilarated. I love creativity in any form, big or small, professional or for the sheer fun of it (that's often the best kind).

© Matt PhelanAnd yet... I seem to spend a lot of time NOT being creative. Procrastination is a strange enemy.  The worst thing about it is that when I'm procrastinating, I am fully aware that what I really want to do is be creative. That if I just went back to the drawing board I would eventually once again be swept up in that peculiar exhilaration that comes from making something up.

What to do? One solution is to look at what other creative people are doing. Whether you are an illustrator or not, you can't help but be inspired by reading the amazing illustrator profiles that Julie Danielson puts together at the stellar Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog. Honestly, this never ever fails to make me want to grab a pencil as soon as I finish reading. I also get a creativity buzz from browsing through Etsy or one of the many DIY culture magazines around like MAKE and ReadyMade. It all inspires me. 

Is it envy? A little, maybe. But mostly I think it’s the recognition that these creators have tapped into that peculiar exhilaration, that place of sheer fun that is the heart of creativity. I want to experience that again, too.

And so I go back to the Drawing Board. I always do.

Here is the trailer for Matt's graphic novel The Storm in the Barn.

Thank you, Matt Phelan! To celebrate the publication of Spilling Ink, we are giving away five signed copies! For a chance to win, leave us a comment under this post, with the word “Celebrate” at the end. Please be sure to fill out your email address  (only we can see it) so we can contact you if you are a winner. Winners will be randomly chosen. You have until Sunday, April 11, 2010 to enter this giveaway. One entry per person please. Good luck!

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