On the Floor and Upside Down: Writing Strategies

artwork by Sarah Lynne Reul

If you ever have the great good fortune to attend a workshop with Kevin Lewis, you may want to sit in the back row. It’s his favorite spot for selecting volunteers! At the April 2017 New England SCBWI conference, Kevin invited one person to join him, stretched flat on the floor, to emphasize the importance of taking in the world from a child’s perspective. At the equivalent of toddler eye-level, she remarked with wonder at a horizon cluttered with tote bags and knees.

After the conference, I was eager to practice any and all writing tips from the maestro behind CHUGGA- CHUGGA CHOO-CHOO so I flopped right down onto my living room floor. Let’s not mention the dust bunnies, shall we? But overall, the view was fairly uninspiring. No wonder kids engage their imaginations dozens or hundreds of times during the day.

Then I flopped, stomach side down, onto the ottoman and realized “This thing would be more fun with wheels.” Wow – my inner toddler had begun to express herself! I noticed that the carved carpet was too bumpy for a floor puzzle, but could become zippy tracks for little cars or animals. Vroom, vroom!

I flipped over, stomach side up. My head and arms dangled over the ottoman’s edges. I tried to ignore a wispy cobweb framing the skylight. Some clouds, then a bird flew overhead. I remembered reading about inversion therapy – something Dan Brown advocates to combat writer’s block. There are some quirky writing habits detailed at that link that don’t involve gravity boots but may require déshabillé (I won’t be trying either). However – BOOM! Suddenly I had funny inspiration for a story that I put aside months ago.

In short, don’t forsake opportunities to change your perspective occasionally when doing creative work. Whether conceiving, writing, revising, or battling writer’s block, shaking up your orientation may be just the thing. Sit in the front row, or the last row. Flop onto the floor. Of course a rich weekend of inspiring conference presentations, engaging with friends and mentors old and new, and lugging home a tote full of shiny new books are wonderful ingredients to incorporate in the process.

I would love for you to share any other creative strategies or flashes of inspiration in the comments. Happy writing!

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About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at cmealey@post.harvard.edu or Twitter @catballoumealey
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29 Responses to On the Floor and Upside Down: Writing Strategies

  1. Sounds like an amazing conference Kathy, thanks for sharing the ants 🐜 eye view perspective!

  2. Oh, how neat! I’m sorry I missed his talk but, thanks to you, I now have a good techniques to try for getting some child-centered views on things! And it was SO great to finally meet you in person, Cathy! ❤

    • He gave a wonderful, energetic presentation! Also very thoughtful about creating books for the very littlest readers with rhythm, repetition and interactive refrains.

      LOVED meeting you IRL and I know it won’t be long before I see you again amongst writers, artists and books!

  3. Artists often turn their work upside down for another perspective too!

    • Well that is a nifty technique that I never knew. Thanks! Brian Lies gave a fabulous presentation as well on “Tips for Picture Book Authors Who Want to be Illustrated Well.” I’m now thinking a lot about image variety from one page to the next, and noticing when that is well done in published books.

  4. mariagianferrari says:

    I’ve heard that about artists and mirrors too, Julie. Maybe that’s what the new manuscript is needing–a mirror :). Sounds like a great workshop, Cathy! I missed NESCBWI–the BEST conferences evah!

    • It was an exceptional group of workshops and presenters this year. And seeing/meeting writing and illustrating friends is so exciting. I hope you will be **TEACHING** at NE-SCBWI one day soon Maria! Your workshop will be packed! Congrats on your latest canine tale “Operation Rescue Dog”!

  5. Sue Wang says:

    I love this post, the inversion therapy to see outside of the box and break out of writing block. I imagine it’s great for other blocks 😀.

    It reminds me of the Hangman card in tarot. Thank you, Cathy!

  6. What a fun conference and post! It is hard to get a child’s view of the world when we write. I like the idea of standing on one’s head to gain a different perspective. His exercise sounded fun! I know that I discovered as a child that if you stare at certain kinds of throw rugs, interesting pictures appear. I used to make up stories from what I saw. Still do.

    • That’s fun! I remember realizing that snowbanks always appeared super high when I was a kid because I was only about 3 feet high at the time! Of course they towered over me! Thanks for sharing on Twitter as well Pat. 🙂

  7. rnewman504 says:

    Such wonderful advice. Wish I could have gone to the conference. One of these years and I’ll happily grab a back seat. 🙂

  8. Iza Trapani says:

    I love this- especially the inversion therapy approach. it could help both my writing AND my back! Glad you cam back with a renewed, childlike sense of wonder. Happy writing!

  9. Lewis is right. I, for one, cannot work with LEGOs unless I am lying on my belly. Only that position allows for optimal LEGOing.

  10. tinamcho says:

    Great idea! I’ll have to lay on the floor for a while and see things from a different perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Cathy – What a great perspective! Too bad I’m such a klutz or I’d try the ottoman. Maybe if I wear knee pads… Although I have been known to go upstairs to the roof deck when I need to take a writing break. Whatever works, right? Chris

  12. Lauri Meyers says:

    Love it Cathy! Everything is better with wheels:)

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