Welcome to the Winner’s Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL students. Today we’re celebrating Susan Dean who was our 1st Place Winner in the Kindergarten Picture Book Contest!
How many writing contests have you entered?
Tell us the title of your entry and a short summary of the story.
“If My Teacher Were An Octopus”
A child wonders if his teacher is really an octopus in human clothes because she seems to be able to
always do 8 things at once throughout the school day.
What inspired your winning entry?
I was a school-based speech pathologist working with pre-schoolers and often had groups of at least 4 children in front of me. When it came time to use scissors or to set them up with speech/language activities they would have to wait their turn as I told them “I only have 2 hands – I’m not an octopus!” This resulted in giggles and lots of speech/language opportunities – vocabulary, math, etc. The kids loved it and I decided to try it out for the contest.
How has entering this contest helped your writing?
It has given me the confidence to keep writing and to continue to enter more contests. It has helped me realize that it’s important to capture ideas as they appear and to try and see if they can be worked into something viable. I tend to discard much of what I think of—ideas that I decide are too silly or uninteresting—before I even attempt to write anything down. This contest showed me that it’s important to trust my instincts.
How did the critique in the Winners’ Workshop help you?
I loved the feedback as the critique was very helpful. I was given many ways to improve my story—from rhyming to structure to content—all very positive comments and suggestions that I plan to incorporate that will solidify my story and make it stronger.
Are you a full-time writer? If not, what is your “day job”?
No, I am not a full-time writer. I was a school-based speech pathologist for 25 years (I was a biochemistry lab tech in a a hospital before I became a speech path). I retired about a year ago and work as a part-time tour guide in a historic mansion (it was my summer job—now it is my retirement job!).
How long have you been writing?
Since childhood! But I seriously started writing about 20 years ago. I began with non-fiction essays and took many classes and workshops through the years, including classes with the Institute of Children’s Literature. I found I enjoyed writing for children, especially since my career revolved around kids.
What will you do with your piece now that it’s been recognized?
I am going to take the suggestions given in the critique and re-work my piece to incorporate them. I am thinking about then possibly trying to send it out after doing some research into where it might fit.
Any fun plans for the prize money?
Yes, I have booked a flight to Dallas (I live in Rhode Island) to visit my daughter, son–in-law, and my youngest grandchild – 18-month-old Emilia. Maybe she will inspire me with some new ideas!
What do you do when you’re feeling discouraged or blocked? Do you have any tips for your fellow writers?
It can be very frustrating and discouraging, but I try not to get down on myself. Leaving it for awhile can help. Sometimes doing something physical like taking a walk or doing something quiet like reading or meditation works, too. The key being to leave it alone for awhile and letting it percolate. I participate in a very informal writing group twice a month and will often run stories and ideas by my writing group friends. Their support helps get me going when I feel blocked.
If you could go to the yard sale of any character in the history of children’s literature, whose would you go to, and what would you buy?
I’d probably like to visit with the boy in “The Giving Tree” and buy some seeds from his tree to plant in my yard. It is one of my favorite classic stories that I read to my daughters (long ago!), to my kids at school, and now to my grandchildren!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your ICL experience?
I took 2 classes with the Institute of Children’s Literature and found the instruction to be invaluable in developing my writing skills and style. The instructors were top-notch and very motivating— giving both positive feedback and also critical suggestions in a way that showed me how to improve, rework, revise, and ultimately end up with pieces I was either happy with or happy to discard. Both were very positive and productive learning experiences. I also love the contests as they help to build skills in learning how to write following specific guidelines (structure, audience, topic, etc.) and to get my writing going with a deadline in mind. The contests are a great way to motivate me to keep