Tag Archives: writing

Finding Writing Inspiration through the Five Senses

I’m starting to think about a new book. It’s hazy now, like shapes in the fog, but it’s getting closer. I am not an outliner, so I have to feel my way through that fog, stumbling in a direction that I hope is right. I find that the more I can immerse myself in the world of the story, the quicker it comes. Here are some of the tricks I’ve used; I would love to hear yours.

tree trunk

  1. Sight

Like many writers, I gather images to inspire me. I’ve got a framed photo of a giant tree on my writing desk, a remnant of my first book. I have pictures of people who look like the people in my books saved in my Scrivener files, as well as pictures of the settings, animals, even particular pieces of furniture. Pinterest is great for this. For those on Twitter, the hashtag #novelaesthetics is really fun.

rufus wainwright

  1. Sound

I know that a book is coming closer when I start gathering songs for a new playlist. Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah instantly transports me to the world of my first book. I don’t listen to the playlist when I’m actually writing (too distracting), but when I’m thinking about the book, on a run or on a drive, it helps me get in the zone.

big red

  1. Smell

Much of my first book takes place in the woods, so when I was hiking, I would try to note and hold onto the smells—the pine, the earth, the dew. I also, though, am an inveterate gum chewer, and I have assigned a different type of gum to my different works in progress. I’m chewing a lot of Big Red these days. If I open a pack anywhere in the world, I immediately think about my work in progress.

biscuit dough

  1. Taste

The taste of the gum also helps me. The fiery, cinnamon taste of Big Red puts me in the right frame of mind for the quick and snappy soccer players I’m writing. The inspiration goes the other way, too. I remember writing one biscuit-baking scene and getting so hungry that I had to go bake some myself. The kids were thrilled to wake up to fresh biscuits on a school day.


  1. Touch

Going to the woods also helped me get into the tactile nature of the woods. I would feel the bumpy bark, shuffle through the pine needles, note the hot sun on the back of my neck. For the book that is coming, I recently brought an oyster shell home from a canoeing trip. Something about the sleek, iridescent ridges spoke to me. It feels right in my hands, though I don’t know yet how it fits in with my forming story. I can’t wait to find out.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer. Her books are fueled by cherry blow pops, as well as Big Red. She had six cavities the first time she went to the dentist, but has since learned much better dental hygiene. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com or through her book blog, www.kidbooklist.com. On Twitter, she’s @SuperKate.



Face to Face with an Author or Illustrator: Why School Visits are So Important

Not too long ago, I was speaking to a diverse group of 7th graders.  They were diverse in every way – ethnicity, size, and even their desire to be in the room. Some entered smiling at me, obviously anticipating this day, the day when the author of the book they’d all read together would visit their  school.  Other shuffled in silently, eyes down, way too cool to care.

The body language of one girl caught my attention. She entered laughing and swinging her long hair. She had the attention of those around her. She was pretty, wearing more makeup than most of the other girls, and she looked more like a high school freshman than a 7th grader. She seemed more interested in laughing with the boys at her table than listening to a visiting author.

I’ve done enough author visits in the last seven years to know that middle schoolers can be a tough crowd. I knew I could engage the ones who were excited about my visit and, hopefully, win over those who were indifferent.

Chagrin Nov 15 web small

About half way through my presentation, the girl pulled out a blank piece of white notebook paper. I hoped she was so inspired by my talk of writing that she was moved to compose a poem or short story right there on the spot. But as moved around the room, I could see she was writing a note to someone. Probably to one of the boys. I sighed and  thought, “I can’t reach them all, I guess.”

When the presentation was over, she came right up to me and, to my surprise, handed me the note. She smiled, and then hurried to catch up with the boys.

Here’s what it said, in part:

Dear Mrs.House, (close enough for me!)

Thank you making me feel confident about my writing. Hopefully you know how much this writer’s workshop meant to me. When I came to the writer’s workshop I thought it was going to be just like the other workshops I went to. I had so many questions that had no answers. I cherished all your words. I really appreciate you coming to our school. You answered my questions.

I bet you get a lot of letters but I want to tell you that you make me want to be a writer or at least get started. You probably won’t remember this letter in 2 days but you showed me skills that I will continue to use.

We’ve all heard the many reasons author visits are important:  They promote interest in reading, they inspire young writers, they provide firsthand explanation of how publishing works, they encourage students to become better editors of their own work, they’re just plain FUN!

These are all great reasons for authors and schools to connect. But, I can tell you that at every school I’ve visited, at least one student has expressed in some way a profound connection with either me or my work.  It’s often a student who stands out socially, is awkward, or very quiet.  Sometimes, it’s the one I least expect.  Those connections makes every hurdle schools must leap to get that author standing before that student in that particular moment worthwhile. Those face to face connections cannot happen anywhere else.

Earlier this week, author Matt de la Peña won the Newbery Medal for Last Stop on Market Street.  A couple of years ago, he spoke to NPR about connecting with a particular student a school visit and about how reading changes young (and old) lives. It’s a piece worth reading. Click here.

Many authors’ websites and blogs tout the benefits of school visits. But, I thought perhaps I’d leave you with some links from others who have seen the magic happen when a student and author connect face to face.

From a librarian: https://youthserviceslibrarianship.wikispaces.com/Author+Visits

From a teacher:   http://wonderteacher.com/authorvisitsinspireyoungwriters/

And, perhaps best of all, from the students: http://reederama.blogspot.com/2014/10/author-visits-are-important-because-you.html

And, to my friend at the school I visited not too long ago, I sent a personal reply via her librarian. I had to tell her she was wrong. I do remember her letter. More than two days, more than two months after my visit. I will always remember her. And, I hope she does become a writer. At least, anyway, she got started.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She has just completed renovations on a one-room schoolhouse which she’ll soon use as her writing studio. She loves to visit bigger schools, too. She’s happy because she’s just booked her first school visit in sunny Florida, and this is the view from her window today:

winter web small


Take Time to Stop and Smell the Roses


Happy Holidays everyone!  The big day is over– for some of us– (Happy Kwanzaa!) and while it may have been awesome, it also may mean a big sigh of relief. The time leading up to the holidays is typically filled with excitement and anticipation, but also stress. Finding the right gift, not forgetting anyone on our list, filling out holiday cards, getting them into the mail in time, and braving the long lines at stores and post offices. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it.

And now that’s it over, our thoughts turn to the new year. We may be making preparations for big New Year’s Eve celebrations  on the town, or perhaps just a quiet night at home.

Whatever you chose to do, think about this.  In a few short days, people will be asking you what your resolutions are for the New Year. You will want to have a list handy with grand plans and goals that you will accomplish in 2016.


That’s a lot of pressure, too.

Before you get caught up in what you want to do for the next year, I invite you to take a moment to sit back and relax.

In our fast-paced world it seems like everyone is always on the go , furiously trying to get through one day, go to sleep, and then face the new one. It’s a never-ending cycle of movement. Come on, admit it. You do this a lot, don’t you? I know that I do. It happens to me when I’m juggling mulitple books, deadlines, edits, or simply taking care of my kids and my dogs. Life can be hair-on-fire crazy on occasion. Sometimes the best thing to do is to slow down and relax.

It is amazing how invigorating doing nothing can be!

My family and I just got back from the most amazing trip. We went to Hawaii for a week. I, of course, took with me stacks of things to keep me occupied– notes from future books, ideas that needed to be fleshed out, books from my to-be-read list. Basically, I planned to work. ( You know in case I became bored in Hawaii. As if?!?)


What did I do?


I sat on the beach in my chair and people-watched. I stared at the awesome beach before me and just let my brain wander.

Oh, we went snorkeling, sight-seeing, shopping, and I even got to meet a dolphin face-to-face. But the best part about my vacation was simply sitting in the beach chair staring at this:


I think we all need to do more of that. I defnitely plan to do so.

So my advice to you is, as you think about what you want to put on that resolution list for 2016, add in “Time to relax”!

My goals for this year include:

— Re-starting my  Tai chi routine at least 3 times a week

— Taking at least 20 minutes a day to step outside and enjoy the sun

— Read more books for fun!

— Unplug from the phone/internet at night

— Spend more time at the beach!

— Take time to stop and smell the roses!


It’s easy to get so caught up in the hectic pace of life that you can forget to take time off.   But relaxing SO important to your own well-being and it costs nothing, but it will make you supremely happy and will invigorate you to keep going!

What are your favorite ways of unplugging and finding time to relax? How do you plan to do this in 2016?

Share your ways below. You may give those of us some great new ideas to add to our own list.

Happy 2016!!