Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved the music of language. There’s something refreshing about the brevity and emotional impact of poetry. As a storyteller and a poet, I have learned to embrace what I call “first words” – the first words that come to mind when I’m working on a new book.
These words could end up any place in my manuscript, not necessarily at the beginning. And I might tweak and refine the words over time. But it’s an important part of my writing process to get those first words down on paper because they give me a starting place. This is why I always have a notepad nearby!
Often what happens for me is that I spend time doing research and thinking deeply about a person or topic I love, and eventually first words emerge. It could take two weeks or two months. Whenever it happens, my job is to capture the words and follow the muse.
For my latest picture book biography, FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, I researched Simone’s life for several months. As a young child, Simone was nimble, energetic, and always moving. She loved jumping on a trampoline and the feeling of flying that came with it. One night I woke up with these words:
Tip, top, trampoline,
jump toward the sky.
One little girl wants
to fly, fly, fly.
I grabbed the notepad on my nightstand, scribbled the words down, and went back to sleep. That stanza helped me establish the tone, rhythm, and structure of my book. My goal was to celebrate Simone Biles’ beauty, talent, and passion for gymnastics in a spare, poetic way. I admire how she overcame challenges and followed her dreams with courage and grace.
In leading writing workshops with students, I have often encouraged them to engage in activities that could prompt “first words” and see where it leads. It can be as simple as reading a brief description or looking at a picture – and then using all of the senses as you think about how it makes you feel. What imagery and words come to mind and how can you build on that? Those first words just might be the start of a book.
It is an honor to share Simone’s story in an accessible way that young children can understand. From her athletic childhood to the height of her success as an Olympic champion, FLYING HIGH is the story of the world’s greatest gymnast!
Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 books for children – with more on the way. She loves telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle’s writing process involves paper, pens, and lots of cookies. The beach is her favorite place to dream and write. The ocean, with its constant rhythm, is a wonderful reminder that there is hope, imagination, and possibility. Michelle lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. Visit Michelle on the web: www.michellemeadows.com.
This giveaway is for a copy of FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles. Many thanks to Macmillan for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name Stacey will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, June 4th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MEADOWS. Please respond to Stacey’s e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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Congratulations to Tracy Mitchell whose commenter number was selected for this giveaway.