creativity

JoyProject podcast: The Joy of The Great British Bake Off with Abby Anklam

The Joy of The Great British Bake Off with Abby Anklam

If ever there was a television show founded on pure joy, it’s The Great British Bake Off. Professional writer and home baker Abby Anklam joins us on the JoyProject podcast to talk about how she started watching Bake Off and her favorite parts of the show that make it a delight to watch. Abby also shares the bakes she tried at home that were inspired by the show and the bakes she plans to try after everything she’s learned as an avid watcher and fan. We also chat about her job as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.

About Abby:
Abigail Anklam is a writer and illustrator who writes books for young readers.

Growing up, she loved reading about fantastic adventures in incredible places and longed to have adventures of her own, just like Lucy in Narnia, Mowgli in the Jungle, or White Fang in the Arctic. So it’s no wonder that she left her Virginia home to find adventure in faraway places, like Arkansas, Italy, Arizona, & China.

During her adventures, Abigail has filled many roles. She has been a student, an actor, a zookeeper, an artist, a teacher, a bookseller, an archer, and more! She loves to learn new skills, visit new places, and try new things. Along the way, she’s experienced different ways of life, met all kinds of wonderful people, and learned about all sorts of fascinating animals. Many of those experiences and interests have found their way into her writing and art.

Right now, Abigail is working on her first children’s novel. It’s a mystery story that involves a bear, an animal trainer, and an escape from the circus. To read a sample of Abigail’s published work, click here. You’ll find an excerpt from According to Their Kinds, a collection of short animal-related stories (for adults).​

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • What makes The Great British Bake Off such a joy to watch
  • How Bake Off is different (and better!) than U.S.-based competition shows
  • What fans of Bake Off learn from the show and apply to their own baking
  • Those adorable illustrations of the bakes that have become a hallmark of the show
  • Abby’s work as a writer and illustrator of children’s books
  • The Story community where I met Abby
  • Junior Bake Off — the newest show in the Bake Off franchise now on Netflix in the U.S.
  • A quote about joy from Jaiya John sent to me by my wonderful friend, artist Rachael Harms Mahlandt

Links to resources:

creativity

How (and Why) to Write Your First Draft Fast

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Writing a book can feel like such a daunting task that you may feel paralyzed before you even begin. Once you talk yourself down off the ledge and actually start writing, the grind can feel slow and painful. It might be such a huge lift that you abandon the project when you hit a rough patch or reach the inevitable messy middle. You run out of steam before you get a first full draft. 

This can leave you feeling inadequate and frustrated, as if you’re a failure for not finishing what you started. Then that tiny voice of doubt in your mind becomes a nonstop scream fest. It can become so loud that getting back to writing can feel too difficult. 

Then as if on cue, other ideas for other books start to enter your mind, and they start to look like a much better use of your time. Before you know it, you have files of half-started books and not a single finished manuscript. 

Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. Truly. Every writer has half-finished work sitting on their laptop and in notebooks to get to “someday”. And that’s frustrating for all of us. 

Maybe you’re like me and truly dislike first drafts. I can’t stand them. I want to get them done as fast as possible so I can get to editing, refining, adding in details, and making that first awful draft (yes, all first drafts by all writers, even the greatest luminaries, are awful) shine brighter and brighter with every turn. 

Now that I’m writing my third book in the Emerson Page series, I’ve finally figured out how to get first drafts done quickly so I can get on with the editing and re-writing I love: I dumped the idea of getting to any specific word count on any day, for any scene, and for the book as a whole. 

What? How can I possibly forget about word count when I’m writing a book? 

Here’s how—the first draft is about one thing and one thing only: getting from the start of my story to the end, and getting to the end as fast as possible. 

Here’s my process for getting a first draft done fast:

First, I’m a cartographer:
Outlines are like roadmaps. They tell me where to go next to reach my final destination. They’re functional, not aesthetically pleasing. I write mine first on index cards—one scene per card—and then move them around to create the order of my story. This is my map for my journey.  

Second, I’m a painter:
Then when I’m happy with the flow on my index cards, I put all of the scenes into Scrivener (the software I use to write my first draft) with some additional details I’ve found in my research. I make notes about who’s in each scene, what the action is, why the scene matters to the story, and what the reader will learn by the end of the chapter that will make them want to turn the page. 

A painter starts by sketching on a blank canvas. That’s what I’m doing as a writer when I create this more detailed outline. 

Third, I’m a mason:
Now I’m ready to write. Once I have the detailed outline sketched out, I start to lay down the foundation of the story, scene by scene, brick by brick. I make tons of notes along the way, highlighted in my manuscript, of more details I eventually want to add. 

But those details aren’t my concern right now. I’m just trying to get the most basic text down so I can get to the end of the first draft. I make a note of the details I want to add and then I keep going. 

My first draft doesn’t look like much to celebrate except it absolutely is. I turned my outline and notes into prose. I got from the beginning of my story to the end. I got some dialogue down. I wrote the action sequences. Now I have something to work with. Huzzah—time to party!

Now I take a break
What? Take a break? Shouldn’t I crank away day after day until my book is a masterpiece? No. 

I write the first draft and put it away until I forget what I wrote. For me, that’s about a month. This way I come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to edit, rewrite, and get to the detail work I love. In that time, I may work on another project. Or I might take a break from writing altogether. 

Now, I’m a sculptor
With that first draft, now I’m ready to add in all those details I love. I’m ready to make that dialogue sing and make it believable. Now is the time for poetry. Now I’m really getting into my craft, and all because I’ve got something functional to work with. The edit and the rewrite (many times over in my case) is where I fix everything and make it better. 

I spend the vast majority of my writing time re-writing, and that’s exactly how I like it. I love to take something from awful to something I’m proud of. I love the detail. I love the refinement. I love incorporating all the research I’ve done, and I do plenty more research in the edit. It’s my happy place. But I can’t do any of that if I don’t have a first draft to work with so my goal is to go from idea to draft a fast as I possibly can. Let it be the stinkiest, ugliest, messiest thing I’ve ever created. I don’t care. It just has to exist. 

No one has ever read a first draft of my work. And no one ever will. The first draft is for me and only me. And there’s a freedom in that. It took me years to really get this and act on it. It’s really only now, with this third Emerson book, that I’m embracing the hideous first draft and reveling in its creation. 

And all those partially finished first drafts I have? Well, after this third Emerson book is done, I’m going to pick up each partially written first draft and get it over the line. They’ll all be the worst thing I’ve ever written, at first, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

creativity

JoyProject Podcast: The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti

The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti

A new episode of the JoyProject podcast dropped today—The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti. It’s available at this link and everywhere you get your podcasts. You can also hear it by clicking the YouTube link above.

Childhood joys never leave us. This week, we delve into all things Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood with podcaster and historian Christine Caccipuoti as our guide. Christine’s loved all things Pooh for her entire life. With a mother and grandmother who loved Winnie-the-Pooh, these stories and characters were her destiny.

As the Co-producer and Co-Host of the incredible Footnoting History podcast, Christine not only delves into why she loves Pooh but also the history of the Milne family, the importance of maintaining the magic we find in childhood wonder as we age, and what may be ahead for Pooh as he and his friends begin to enter the public domain.

At the end of the podcast, I share the final passage of The House at Pooh Corner and how you can see the original Pooh stuff animals on display at the New York Public Library (and online) as part of a fantastic free exhibition going on right now.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– Christine’s podcast, Footnoting History
– Christine’s Winnie-the-Pooh episode on Footnoting History
– How Christine got interested in Winnie-the-Pooh
– How her views on the different characters in the Hundred Acre Wood have changed over the years
– The importance of maintaining childhood wonder as an adult and why having things that bring you joy in your life are so important
– The differences and similarities between the A.A. Milne stories and the Disney Pooh stories
– How and why we gravitate to certain stories and certain characters within stories
– Why so many people relate to Eeyore and how compassion is a major theme in the Hundred Acre Wood
– The history of the Milne family and how Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends came to be
– How the Pooh stories are similar to other childhood favorites such as Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and Charlie Brown
– The messages that Milne communicated to all of us about life and friendship through Winnie-the-Pooh
– What it means for Pooh to now (sort of) be in the public domain
– What might be next for Pooh and Friends in the years ahead
– How to see the original Pooh stuffed animals in New York City

Links to resources:
– Christine’s personal website / blog – http://www.ChristineCaccipuoti.com
– Christine on Twitter – @mynameispurpose
– Christine on Instagram – @mynameispurpose
– Footnoting History (FH) Website ­ http://www.FootnotingHistory.com
– Christine’s FH episode about Pooh – https://www.footnotinghistory.com/home/winnie-the-pooh
– FH YouTube Channel –­ http://www.YouTube.com/FootnotingHistory
– FH Twitter – @historyfootnote­
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
– Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library’s Treasures – https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/treasures
– Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends stuffed animals at the New York Public Library – https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/galleries/childhood/item/4108
– The last passage of The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/808360-then-suddenly-again-christopher-robin-who-was-still-looking-at
– The Winnie-the-Pooh Show Christine saw in New York is on tour throughout the U.S. – https://winniethepoohshow.com/

About Christine:
Christine Caccipuoti is a historian, writer, and co-producer of the long-running podcast Footnoting History, where she regularly shares her love of biography.

Christine proudly co-edited Independent Scholars Meet the World: Expanding Academia beyond the Academy (University Press of Kansas, 2020) and has published / is soon publishing pieces about Blanche Barrow, Jane Manning James, and Elton John.

In addition to dealing with all things historical, Christine likes to spend her time rewatching her favorite television shows and films, learning about elephants, tweeting about musical theater, and planning vacations she may or may not eventually take.

creativity

Start at the ending, in writing and life

Photo by Monty Allen on Unsplash

“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Julie Andrews, Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music

As writers, sometimes we have to start at the end. In my previous books, I started at the beginning and wrote all the way through to the end. It’s how I outline, too. But with this third Emerson Page book, I have to take a different approach.

I started to write the beginning with my trusty outline in-hand and quickly found myself in murky waters. So murky that I was procrastinating, which I never do. I was afraid to sit down and write, and that fear was getting in the way of delivering my draft manuscript to my publisher under a tight deadline.

I have to find another way in. I stopped writing in my usual progression of beginning to end, and flipped it on its head. Today, I’m writing the last chapter of the book, the end of Emerson’s story arc. I know where it needs to take place and what needs to happen there. With that confidence, I’ll walk backward one step, one chapter, at a time.

To be honest, I don’t like that I have to do this. I’m a creature of habit and I like my writing habits. But this leg of Emerson’s journey is the most complicated of the three books. It has many more twists, turns, and surprises. The stakes are higher, and I have to give readers an ending that’s satisfying and true to Emerson’s spirit. To do that, I have to adjust my process.

Maybe you’re facing something similar, in your writing or in your life. Something isn’t progressing as you hoped. A surprise popped up that has thrown you off-track. You’re stuck, disappointed, frustrated, or maybe you’re all of those things.

Back up and look for a different path. How can you adjust what you’re doing? Is there another way forward, even it requires you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Maybe like me, you have to put things in reverse. Start with the goal. Then instead of asking, “and then what happened?”, ask “how did I get here? And here? And here?”

It may turn out that the ending is the very best place to start.

creativity

In writing and life, have a sculptor’s mindset

Photo by Ilia Zolas on Unsplash

First drafts, of writing and any project in life, can be difficult. The proverbial blank page stares at us and we’re so concerned about getting things exactly as we want them to be in the end that we forget all creative acts are a process of becoming. Nothing springs to anyone fully-formed and perfectly-worded. 

I’m in the process of writing the first draft of my third novel. You’d think this would get easier with time. It hasn’t for me. I still approach each first draft, each first attempt of all of my creative projects, with trepidation and anxiety. What if this time I’m a total failure? What if what I’m trying to do doesn’t land and I can’t do anything to make it even decent, much less something I’m proud of? 

In moments like this that make it difficult for me to even begin, I remind myself that I’m a sculptor. This blank page, this new project idea, is a block of marble. And like the sculptor, I’m taking away tiny bits here and there. It will take many rounds of refining to bring the sculpture to life from this block. It will not happen overnight. It will not happen quickly. My only job is to begin, a tiny tap here, a tiny tap there. Over and over again with intention, curiosity, and openness. I don’t need to be brilliant. I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to show up. What I don’t get right in this round, I can attempt in the next. And on and on it goes. 

We consume and admire the work of others at its end stage. All we see and experience in the finished product, not the many long and arduous hours, wrong turns, edits, messiness, doubt, and about-face maneuvers it took to get to that ending when it’s ready for the public. So we compare our work-in-progress to work that has already progressed. 

The sculptor’s mindset is the one we need as we begin. Pick up the hammer and chisel and chip away at the smallest task of your grand dream. It’s how all great work starts, and how all great work makes its way, slowly and surely, into the world. 

creativity

For writers: FREE resources on query letters, nonfiction book proposals, finding an agent, and social media from Eric Smith

Eric Smith from his website https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/

Hello, lovely writers. Do you know Eric Smith, author and agent extraordinaire? If not, please get to know him because he’s a ray of light in the writing community. As both a successful author and agent, he understands both points-of-view and helps demystify a lot of things in the writing and publishing world that many other people don’t.

It’s incredible how much wonderful advice he puts out into the world for authors for FREE! There are a lot of organizations out there who want to charge you a lot of money for this advice—I’ve paid some of them for it and I can promise you I should have just read Eric’s website because the advice I paid for was exactly the same as what Eric offers. 

Here’s a summary of what he has on his website:

Query letters
The good ol’ query letter is what we put together when looking for an agent or publisher who accepts unagented queries. You can read the query letter that helped me find my publisher for my Emerson Page young adult adventure trilogy here. Eric offers up 17 successful query letters from authors he’s worked with and he also explains why their pitches worked so well. In my pitch to my publisher, I did so many things that conventional wisdom said not to do. If you’d like to read my article on that, it’s here: A Publisher Bought My YA Novel Trilogy — Here’s Everything I Did Wrong.

Crafting nonfiction book proposals
I’ve been working on a nonfiction book proposal for about 6 months and Eric’s advice has helped me tremendously. He provides several successful nonfiction book proposals from authors he’s worked with and again offers his explanation of why they worked for those authors. There are definitely paid services out there that could be valuable for you to use but I recommend you try following his advice to create your proposal first, send it out, and see how it lands with agents and publishers.

Author and editors whom you can work with
If you’ve decided you’re at the point where you need an author or editor to look at your work and offer specific advice on your manuscript, proposal, or query, Eric has a long list of recommendations of people he trusts. He’s used the services of these people himself, as an author and as an agent. 

Looking up literary agents
Eric’s blog, which he updates regularly, is chock full of other advice for writers. One question I always get is, “How do I find an agent?” If you’re in the market for an agent, it takes legwork and research to find them. Eric offers advice on looking up agents and reaching out to them in this blog post.

Social media for authors
Ah, social media for authors. Do you love it? Do you hate it? It matters, and it doesn’t have to take over your life. Eric offers all kinds of advice on what to share on social media, platforms to use, and how it’s helped him as a writer and as a person. 

Building a platform
“You have to have a platform.” I have heard this for years and I still hear it all day every day to this day. Platform matters. It can also be fun to build one. There is so much to learn. There are so many people in the world doing really interesting work. While building your platform, you’ll meet and befriend so many terrific people you may not meet otherwise. That’s certainly been my experience and it’s brought me a lot of joy over the years. Eric offers up advice on building a platform as well

If you’re in need of writing and publishing advice (and who among us isn’t?!), hop over to Eric’s website and use his free resources for writers to the max. Happy writing and I can’t wait to read your stories!

creativity

JoyProject podcast: Joyful News 6.14.22—the dinosaur edition

Joyful News 6.14.22 – the dinosaur edition

Joyful News is a set of stories I’ve gathered from around the world that spark joy. This week’s stories are all about dinosaurs:

Available everywhere you get your podcasts and at this link where you can also read a transcript.

creativity

How research helps writers get unstuck

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Have you ever been in the messy middle of a writing project? It’s the point where you’re not quite sure how to get from the middle of the narrative to the satisfying conclusion you have planned. It feels like you’re in quicksand, unable to clearly see the path forward. Your characters look to you for guidance, you look to them for guidance, and none of you have any answers so you just spin place, or worse—you abandon the project altogether. 

The wisdom and guidance you need to get out of the messy middle is research. Right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel. The main tentpoles of the plot have remained the same but I’ve brought in many new details to make the script come alive. It’s set in an Italian bakery in New York City in 1910, a dynamic and wild time in the city, country, and world. A myriad of historical events would have had an outsized impact on my characters so I have to research that time to get the details just right. It’s a heavy lift, and ultimately worth the time and attention.

I got myself out of that messy middle by digging into The New York Times archive for specific dates and events that figure prominently into the lives of my characters. In that research I found a plethora of information, and that information created the map I needed to find my way to the conclusion. 

If you’re in the messy middle now and ready to throw in the towel out of frustration, take a deep breath and go to the archives. Let history be your guide. Research your way across the channel to safely emerge on shore on the other side. It’s only a matter of time. The world needs your story.

creativity

JoyProject podcast episode: Joyful News 5.31.22

Joyful News 5.31.22

Put some joyful news in your day!

Joyful News is a set of stories I’ve gathered from around the world that spark joy. In this episode I share these joyful news stories about books, exercise, meditation, food, and travel:

Listen here https://christaavampato.com/joyful-news-5-31-22/ and wherever you get your podcasts.

creativity

Research is a writer’s best friend

Art by CJ Bown of the Arcade in Central Park that hangs in my apartment

I’m under contract to write the third novel in my Emerson Page trilogy. I’ve struggled to find my footing with this one. I’ve written out over half a dozen concepts and nothing felt genuine. It all felt like a forced narrative. This has been going on for months.

I had a hunch that the book should begin in the Arcade near Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. I wasn’t sure how or why, but that space has called to me for years. I have a huge photograph of it hanging in my apartment, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of art. For months I’ve been looking for interesting aspects of the arcade and the fountain, hoping to find some link to Emerson’s story. Nothing.

So I went back to the primary source—Greensward, the original plan for Central Park written by Olmsted and Vaux in 1858. Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, along with the Arcade, are considered the heart of the Park. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature had an enormous influence on the design of Central Park. Both Olmsted and Vaux admired him. My protagonist, Emerson Page, is named after Emerson.

From there, I did more research on Emerson, Olmsted, and Vaux and found a number of links to the muses of Greek mythology who figure prominently in Emerson Page’s story. All the pieces I’d been struggling to find fell into place one by one and before I knew it, my outline of the third book was humming after so many false starts.

If you find yourself stuck in your writing, I highly encourage a detour into research and into primary sources. The answers to our present challenges often have roots in the past. Our job as writers is to uncover them and bring them into the light.