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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Road Scholar

I once had an “aha” moment while giv­ing my nephew a ride on a beau­ti­ful sum­mer day. He was in that ear­ly stage of ado­les­cence: old enough to sit in the front seat, but young enough that rid­ing shot­gun was excit­ing. But dur­ing this ride, he was giv­ing off strange sig­nals. He twitched. He wig­gled. He squirmed. When we pulled up to a red light, I turned to look at him.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Rev Their Engines

Some­times, despite cram­ming plen­ty of action and conflict into my writ­ing, it still falls flat. I want the words to leap off the page and grab read­ers by the throat, and instead they flop around gasp­ing for breath. For­tu­nate­ly, there’s a straight­for­ward revi­sion trick that can reju­ve­nate such writ­ing: a verb check. I start by going through the piece and under­lin­ing or high­light­ing every verb.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Where She Went

I love book spine poet­ry, and it’s a great way to get young writ­ers to engage with both books and poet­ry-writ­ing. Check out your own shelves and see what sto­ries emerge. Here are some of my own efforts to show you how easy it can be. Where She Went Look­ing for Alaska 
Chas­ing Vermeer 
Track­ing dad­dy down 
Look­ing for Alibrandi
In search of Mockingbird
Where the kiss­ing nev­er stops Reality check Real­i­ty check:
Don’t you know there’s a war on?… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Mile Marker

“Assumptions” cause misunderstandings in life, but they can be a handy tool for writers.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Driving a Compact

In my town, par­al­lel park­ing was known as the “skill most like­ly to rat­tle” new dri­ving can­di­dates and ulti­mate­ly cause them to flunk their on-road dri­ving test. Luck­i­ly for me, I was assigned a gigan­tic pick­up truck the day we prac­ticed par­al­lel park­ing in the stu­dent lot for Driver’s Ed class. By the time class was over, I could have wedged the Titan­ic between ice­bergs and come out safe­ly on the oth­er side (as long as the ice­bergs had high­ly vis­i­ble orange safe­ty cones stick­ing up out of the water).… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Lincoln or Jaguar?

Names are one-word poems. I often do tons of research to figure out which name is the best match for the individual I’m inventing; it matters that I get it right.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Looking Both Ways

Some students jump into wild creativity without hearing a single warning rattle. Others stop to look both ways so often that they never successfully make it across the writing street.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Writing Road Kill

Writing well is hard. If you’re not challenging yourself as a writer, you can turn into writing road kill. Besides: angels need a reason to show up.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Mileage Log

There’s a quote about sculpting, attributed to Michelangelo, that I often paraphrase for students when I’m talking about the art of revising.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Overdrive

There’s a quote about sculpt­ing, attrib­uted to Michelan­ge­lo, that I often para­phrase for stu­dents when I’m talk­ing about the art of revising: In every block of mar­ble I see a stat­ue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and per­fect in atti­tude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the love­ly appari­tion to reveal it to the oth­er eyes as mine see it.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Travel-Sized

Some­thing that has always stuck with me from pio­neer tales is the images of the keep­sakes and oth­er non-manda­to­ry items pio­neer fam­i­lies often had to dis­card on the trail as the trip became hard­er and the oxen grew weary of pulling the over­loaded wagons. This is just one of the rea­sons on the very long list of why I would have made the world’s worst pio­neer — I can’t pack for a week­end with­out schlep­ping along half my house­hold goods.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Possible Detours

Once, in one of my (not uncom­mon) moments of think­ing that I could no longer han­dle the finan­cial uncer­tain­ty of the children’s book writ­ing life, I read a book that pur­port­ed to match cre­ative peo­ple to poten­tial career pur­suits. I read the advice, filled out the quizzes, and final­ly received my assigned “type.” With great antic­i­pa­tion I turned to the sec­tion at the back of the book where pos­si­ble career paths were list­ed by type.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Wish You Were Here

There are lots of ways that young writers can use actual collaging and related techniques to build a setting for their own stories.
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Headlights

Recent­ly, I’ve been think­ing back on a time when my focus was riv­et­ed on help­ing to care for a fam­i­ly mem­ber who was deal­ing with seri­ous med­ical issues. It’s been stress­ful to have this large “life moment” dis­rupt my nor­mal rou­tine, but it also brings with it a cer­tain kind of clar­i­ty. It’s kind of like dri­ving at night on a coun­try road, when the only thing you see clear­ly is what is illu­mi­nat­ed by your head­light beams; you’re aware of the shad­owy shapes of oth­er objects flash­ing by along the road­side, but the illu­mi­nat­ed area in front of you is what gets your pri­ma­ry attention.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Watching for the Brown Truck

A few years back, I had one fright­en­ing week. I had my head down, work­ing hard, when I heard a com­mo­tion out­side. I got up to look out my front win­dow and saw the SWAT team march­ing towards my house, car­ry­ing guns and wear­ing bul­let-proof vests. Once the sound of the news heli­copters alert­ed me to turn on the TV, I found out what was going on: there had been a work­place shoot­ing in my nor­mal­ly qui­et neigh­bor­hood, and at first law enforce­ment thought the gun­man might be on the loose.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Emergency Car Kit

When I was a kid grow­ing up in the north woods of Min­neso­ta, a group of my neigh­bor­hood friends had a “Chip­munk Fort.” It was con­struct­ed out of a pile of old fenc­ing mate­ri­als in my friend Paul’s back­yard; each kid had their own “house” in the fort. We spent some time col­lect­ing pret­ty rocks and odd­ly shaped sticks and soft clumps of moss to dec­o­rate our hous­es.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Fake ID

Ask your young writers to imagine a social media profile for their main character. What games do they play? Do they win? Do they cheat? What would their online profile say? Do they lie when they’re online, and if so, what about?
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

In the Driver’s Seat

To be able to learn how to get some­where, I have to dri­ve the route myself. Rid­ing shot­gun doesn’t work if I’m try­ing to mem­o­rize the route; some­how the feel­ing of the nec­es­sary twists and turns has to seep up through the steer­ing wheel and into the pores of my hands for me to be able to reli­ably retain it.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

The Finish Line

Nothing is a bigger thrill for the young writers I mentor than what we have come to call their “publication parties.”
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

When I was a young teenag­er my fam­i­ly made a road trip from Min­neso­ta to Texas to vis­it my father’s par­ents. The long trip south most­ly fea­tured one kind of civ­il war: the end­less bick­er­ing of my two broth­ers and the male cousin who’d come along for the ride. For the trip back north, I staked out a hidey-hole in the far back of the sta­tion wag­on and crammed myself in amongst the lug­gage, still-wet-from-the-hotel-pool swim­suits, and snack foods.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

That’s How I Roll

As a kid I was the one who insti­gat­ed a lot of the fun. It might be play­ing pirates in the tree house, or cops and rob­bers in my mom’s parked sta­tion wag­on, or spies who wrote secret code in lemon juice (lat­er reveal­ing the mes­sage by hold­ing it over the toast­er). Often our make believe reflect­ed what­ev­er sec­tion of the library I hap­pened to be work­ing my way through at the time.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Tuned in to Talk Radio

When I was a lit­tle girl and my Min­neso­ta grand­par­ents came to vis­it, we shared them around for sleep­ing pur­pos­es. One night I would share my dou­ble bed with Grand­ma, and the next night my broth­er and I would switch places, and I’d sleep on his top bunk while Grand­pa set­tled into the bot­tom bunk. Grand­ma was a bit of a night owl like I am, so it was nev­er hard to keep her talk­ing.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

That Time I Drove the Karma Bus

All fresh­men at my col­lege had to wear bean­ies at the start of school. Besides the obvi­ous fash­ion quandary, the prob­lem was that stu­dents from the town’s rival col­lege glo­ried in steal­ing beanies. And I knew if any of my upper class­mates caught me sans beanie, they had the pow­er to make me stand on a table in the cafe­te­ria and sing my high school fight song.… more
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Lisa Bullard. Photo by Katherine Warde

Curves Ahead

I was thrilled when Teenage Nephew 1 grew old enough to mow my yard. We nego­ti­at­ed a price and then head­ed out­side. I knew that at his house, his father was King of the Rid­ing Mow­er, so mow­ing was a com­plete­ly new skill to Teenage Nephew. So I care­ful­ly reviewed the basics with him: mow­er oper­a­tion, safe­ty issues, how he shouldn’t plow over my rose bushes.… more
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Not Enough Beds!

Tripping with Mona Lisa

After my first book was pub­lished, one of my friends gave me a know­ing look and said, “I’ve figured out exact­ly what your sto­ry means.” I nod­ded wise­ly, two of us in on the same secret togeth­er, but truth­ful­ly? I was eager to hear what she had to say. Because in all the time I’d spent writ­ing, revis­ing, and talk­ing about the book to oth­er peo­ple, it had hon­est­ly nev­er occurred to me to ask myself what the sto­ry meant.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Georgia, Broadway, and Niagara — Cheese or Font?

So what’s the per­fect game for some­body who lives in a state with lots of dairy farms, spends a huge hunk of her time writ­ing or read­ing, and has been known to insert a but­ter head into a nov­el as a red her­ring? Why, it’s Cheese or Font, of course! If you’ve nev­er played, please remem­ber to come back and finish read­ing after you’ve wan­dered here to check it out.… more
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Lisa Bullard

The Limo’s on the Way

I’ve found there’s an alarm­ing­ly close cor­re­la­tion between the top­sy-turvy emo­tions of a high school crush and a writer’s feel­ings dur­ing the process of sub­mit­ting a man­u­script to publishers. As the writer wait­ing for an answer from The Per­fect Pub­lish­er, you go through the same hope­ful highs and “why doesn’t any­one love me?” lows. The man­u­script that just last week looked pret­ty darn good has some­how overnight devel­oped a hideous zit.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Backseat Drivers

Some of the best advice you can give stu­dent writ­ers is also some of the eas­i­est for them to car­ry through on: to write bet­ter, they should read better. Read bet­ter, as in: Read more. Read wide­ly. Read out­side their usu­al read­ing “type.” Read care­ful­ly. Read for fun. Read first for sto­ry, and then read as back­seat writers.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Signal Your Intentions

It wasn’t so unusu­al that my teenage nephews were send­ing me sig­nals that trans­lat­ed to: “Will you take us to the store right now so we can spend these Christ­mas gift cards from Grandma?” What was new this year was that they also want­ed to do the dri­ving. Brand-new per­mits in their pock­ets, I agreed to let one twin dri­ve us there, and the oth­er dri­ve us home.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Forgetting How to Drive

You always hear it around the time of the first fall snow­storm in Min­neso­ta: “It’s like peo­ple have for­got­ten how to dri­ve!” It refers to the fact that even dri­vers who are diehard Min­nesotans — as evi­denced by the Min­neso­ta Vikings flags fly­ing from their pick­up anten­nas — don’t seem to have the tini­est clue how to dri­ve on snow-packed roads.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Stopping by the Diner

My dad has a pas­sion­ate hatred of olives on, in, or even in the gen­er­al vicin­i­ty of his food. He’s con­vinced their mere pres­ence con­t­a­m­i­nates any­thing else on his plate. So when he eats at his favorite small-town din­er, he’s always care­ful to tell the serv­er that he wants his din­ner sal­ad with­out the black olives they usu­al­ly include.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Pickle Voice

I think that what we mean when we talk about “writer’s voice” is a writer’s personality showing up on the page. It emerges through many diverse writing choices, ranging from word usage to tone to rhythm.
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Lisa Bullard

A Vehicle for Change

I’d heard my mom talk about “duck and cov­er”: hid­ing under her school desk from a poten­tial nuclear attack. And I’d par­tic­i­pat­ed myself in tor­na­do drills dur­ing my own school days, lin­ing up in a base­ment hall­way with our arms cov­er­ing our heads. None of that pre­pared me for a lock­down drill. I was on one of my reg­u­lar gigs as a vis­it­ing author when the teacher pulled me aside and prepped me on what to expect.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Shifting Gears

The only argu­ment I’ve ever wit­nessed between Teenage Nephew 1 and Long­time Girl-friend was a doozy. And I couldn’t help chortling with glee because the basis of their dis­agree­ment was so close to my heart: What makes for the best pos­si­ble story? Actu­al­ly, the way they put it was, “What’s bet­ter, ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Har­ry Pot­ter’?” But don’t let the fact that they were com­par­ing two fic­tion­al worlds fool you: this was a white-hot debate, the com­peti­tors more impas­sioned in their argu­ments than politi­cians at a pre-elec­tion picnic.… more
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Lisa Bullard

License Plate 007

Story dialogue is charged with the large task of helping to tell the story: it reveals characterization, advances the plot, and provides action.
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Lisa Bullard

Next Exit: Adventure

Some­times just a town’s name is enough to entice you. Who could dri­ve past the exit for Last Chance, Ida­ho — or Hell, Michi­gan — or Hap­py­land, Okla­homa — with­out at least con­tem­plat­ing how your life might be changed if you took that unex­pect­ed detour? All on their own, names tell a sto­ry. That’s why I often do an online search to learn as much as I can about a char­ac­ter name that I’m con­sid­er­ing for my writ­ing — look­ing up eth­nic­i­ty, vari­a­tions, mean­ing — because many times, it opens up new insights into that char­ac­ter for me (or proves to be the wrong choice).… more
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Lisa Bullard

Swerving Over the Line

Dur­ing one of my vis­its to see my Alaba­ma brother’s fam­i­ly, we took a road trip to the Ave Maria Grot­to. That’s where a Bene­dic­tine Monk named Broth­er Joseph Zoet­tl built over 125 Mini-Me ver­sions of some of the great­est build­ings of the world. Artists are often inspired by some­one else’s mas­ter­pieces.  But in work­ing with young writ­ers, I’ve found that it’s easy to mis­tak­en­ly swerve over the cen­ter line from the safe­ty of inspi­ra­tion into the dan­ger of pla­gia­rism (or trade- mark infringe­ment).… more
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Lisa Bullard

Watch Where You’re Going

Rid­ing along with my dad was like going on a Mid­west­ern safari. Even while dri­ving, he had an amaz­ing knack for spot­ting crit­ters as they peeked out from behind trees, perched on phone poles, or slid along the roadside. He didn’t seem to pay any atten­tion to the makes of oth­er cars, or bill­board mes­sages, or what oth­er dri­vers were wear­ing.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Driving in the Dark

A while back I was at my par­ents’ lake cab­in with my extend­ed fam­i­ly. My brother’s teenagers had all brought along friends, and on Sat­ur­day we packed every­one who fell into the “thir­teen to fif­teen” age range off to the late movie. As the res­i­dent night owl, I vol­un­teered to pick up the kids when the movie was over so that the oth­er grown-ups could make it an ear­ly night.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Tunnel Vision

Dri­ving through a tun­nel effec­tive­ly nar­rows our field of vision. The walls and ceil­ing restrict our view to only that which is inside the tun­nel. It doesn’t mat­ter if there’s a moun­tain parked on top of the roof, or an ocean of water being held back by the walls: when we’re inside the tun­nel, those things are out­side our view.… more
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Lisa Bullard

Just Another Roadside Abstraction

For this week’s writ­ing road trip, I offer you texture. I aim for an abstract ele­ment of a real­is­tic sub­ject and use tex­ture to add inter­est and sug­gest depth. —a quote that to the best of my research abil­i­ties I find attrib­ut­able to artist Mar­garet Roseman. I liked the way the above quote spoke to how tex­ture can be used in visu­al art.… more
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