Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top Tips from the Treadmill

Everything I know about writing I learned from running. Really.

1. One step at a time. You don’t try and conquer a mountain in one go. You just go slowly, slowly, watching your feet make a simple pattern beneath you. It’s the same with writing. You don’t bang out an entire opus in an afternoon. It’s one word at a time, one para at a time, one chapter at a time.

2. Showing up is half the battle. I knew, when I started running, that if I set a huge goal, like “run marathon” I’d freak myself out so bad I’d never get out of bed. So instead, I made a mini-goal – just get your butt to the gym. That’s all, I’d say to myself – you don’t even have to run when you get there. Of course once you’ve got your gym gear on and you’re looking at the treadmill, it’s pretty obvious you’ll step on it…and maybe even reach your daily target. But I didn’t start out with anything other than “Get there.” And yes, it’s the same with writing. Don’t freak yourself thinking about how much work lies ahead before you complete the novel. Just commit to sitting at your desk. Every day. You don’t even have to write when you get there. But I bet you will.

3. Make the time. I decided I wanted to run 10K, and lose 10 lbs. I knew that in order to reach these goals, I’d have to seriously increase my time at the gym, both to burn the required number of calories and get my fitness level and speed up to par. But time after time, I’d find that I’d left myself barely enough time to find an available machine. Then I blocked off two hours a day to work out. That gave me enough time to meet my 500 cal goal while moving at a pathetically slow pace, the only pace I could muster after 4 years “on the bench” with a knee injury. And lo and behold, the weight started coming off, and my running speed began to pick up. Within a month, I was moving fast enough to blast through those 500 cals in less than an hour.

That’s the way it works with writing too. You can’t expect to complete a novel if you only write during commercial breaks. Allot the time. You’ll start to see the results.

4. Stretch. If I don’t warm up and stretch those rubberbands I call muscles before and after running, I creep around like a lil ol lady the next day. But if I do stretch, I run better, and feel better too. Writers also need to stretch. First, you need to limber up. Start by writing something easy, or by editing a previous piece of writing. But that’s not all. Don’t forget to stretch in that other way too – by pushing yourself past your normal limits. Sure, it might hurt a bit. But the long term results will be more fluid and limber writing.

5. It's easier with a friend. The miles disappear beneath your feet when you're yakking with a buddy. Writing is also less arduous when you have a pal to help you through the rough patches. Join a writer's group. Go to Writer's Association meetings (like Find folks who understand what you do and why you do it - friends who can cheer you when you succeed, and kick you in the tush when you are feeling sorry for yourself.

6. Life is more fun when you're fit. You have more energy, more ideas, and more peace of mind. Running gave me the ability to perservere through the rotten times - and Lord, there were rotten times. I spent less time fretting, and more time laughing - an important difference when you get a gazillion rejection letters in your inbox.

Although I started out as the ultimate couch-clutching bookworm, I wound up becoming a real fitness hound. Naturally, my interests and passions slopped over into my work. For example, in my upcoming book, The Quiz Book for Boys (Scholastic Canada, January '10), I sneaked some fitness-oriented material in between the kooky quizzes such as What's Your Underwear Style? and Werewolf, Vampire or Zombie? The quizzes allow kids to test their fitness levels by doing pushups, chin ups, sit ups and other simple activities. With the trend toward childhood obesity, I think kids really need to be able to evaluate their own health in a concrete  - and fun - way.

I would have never come up with  The Quiz Book for Boys if I hadn't become a runner myself. Perhaps this fact illustrates that life is a karmic wheel, or dare I say, a cosmic treadmill? Your art will go where your feet lead. So maybe the best way to kick-start your career as a writer is to lace up your Avias and kick it into high gear.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Smelly Smelly Cinderelly

Smelly, smelly Cinderelly
Turned the prince to royal jelly
When he caught a whiff of her
Pungent underarm odeur

Gassed by Cindy’s potent charms
He swooned into her ample arms
And as the luckless royal fell
He succumbed to her ripe smell

The slipper sealed the prince’s fate
When his aromatic date
Stuck her stinky foot in it
And alas! The slipper fit!

So the prince and Cindy wed
But soon the smell killed that prince dead
And that’s the tale I have to telly
Of smelly, smelly Cinderelly.

Smelly Smelly Cinderelly by Helaine Becker
copyright 2007
This morning I had a quick correspondence with a twitter pal, @feedtheteacher, who was teaching a Saturday morning class. Teacher was asking for contributors' favorite fairy tales, and this is the one I supplied. It's one of the more popular pieces I read when I visit schools. I've noticed that with kids, you can never go wrong with stuff that stinks.
This poem is included in the kooky book of miscellany I wrote a few years ago called Mother Goose Unplucked. Jokes, comics, puzzles, games, and yes, poems, all poke fun at familiar Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tale characters. I personally think it's the funniest and cleverest book I've written; I particularly like the Ugly Duckling origami in which you can first make the ugly duckling, and then turn the figure into a swan. It took me ages to work out how to do that one!  And I like the Humpty Dumpty tangrams, in which you take the broken egg pieces and put them pack together again, or use them to make a wide variety of fairy tale birdies. I'm also fond of the Wee Willie Winkie mapping puzzle, and the Jack Jumped over the Candlestick game, and the comic about Old MacDonald's Dog..
Hmmm...I think I'll forget the errands and just go back and reread the whole thing. There's nothing an author likes better than a truly appreciative audience for her books. ;)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Insecto-Files and What's the Big Idea? Are Launched!

How can flies walk on the ceiling without falling onto your head? More than 30+ kids and countless adults ('coz I didn't count 'em!) got the chance to find out at yesterday's very buzzy book launch at McNally Robinson in Toronto. It was my first book launch ever, so I was just a tad excited - and a little nervous. I knew friends and family that had never witnessed me in action would get to finally see what I get paid the big bucks for - acting like an idiot.
Friend and fab author Patricia Storms took these  pictures. What, you ask, is hanging from that plastic cup? It's a paper fly, which kids cut out from photocopies of a page from The Insecto-Files. By dipping their feet in "miracle stick solution" - aka ordinary tap water - the flies were made to stick to the cup and "walk" upside down. A little adhesion magic for the under 12 set!
We also asked invention trivia questions, ripped from the pages of What's the Big Idea?, and winners names went into a draw for prizes.

Here I am demonstrating the magic of water with my big mouth in its natural state - open!

Everyone left with a chocolate ladybug thank you, a wee bag of popcorn, sample issues of Owl magazine, and signed books.
Many thanks to author Helene Boudreau (Acadian Star, Nimbus) (pictured at left) for bringing the cuties in costume, and author Jennifer Lanthier (Hazel Frump series, HarperCollins) for her scissors skills!

We also enjoyed visits from the creme de la creme of Canadian kidlit - Mahtab Narsimhan (Silver Birch Winner for The Third Eye) and Debra Kerbel  (Girl on the Other Side)  - and parenting poobah Kathy Buckworth (The Blackberry Diaries).

Also, shout outs to Kendal Gerard from Owlkids who masterminded and organized everything, and the wonderful staff at McNally Robinson, Don Mills, for hosting the event.

Giving out handmade chocolate ladybugs from Toronto's Chocolate Concepts.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Top Ten World-Changing Inventions?

For a new exhibit, The Science Museum in London unveiled its top ten list of inventions that have changed the world. Naturally, I was curious to see how their assessment compared to my own selections for What's the Big Idea? Inventions that Changed Life on Earth Forever.

Not surprisingly, all of the Museum's pics had made my shortlist. Their number 1 choice, X-rays, is featured on the "Doctor's Office" pages in my book.

But is the X-ray really #1? When I visit with school kids, after heated discussions, we decide that neither x-rays nor x-box are the top invention of all time. Instead, we opt for the spinning wheel.

What???? Do kids really have a soft spot in their hearts for this homely, old-fashioned device? Is their love for threadmaking really intense enough to push even mp3s, computers and TV out of the winner's circle?

You betcha. Especially once kids realize that without needles and thread, spinning wheels and looms, they'd be playing video games in the buff. In this frosty Canadian climate, kids catch on quickly that comfy, cozy clothing is the key to, well, everything.

What other inventions did the London Science Museum select for their list? You can find out at

For my picks, check out What's the Big Idea?, available at bookstores now. Just don't forget to don your woolies before you head out.

Because: Science!