How To Hit the Side of a Barn Part 2


Donna Earnhardt is the author of Being Frank, illustrated by Andrea Castellani. When Donna isn’t homeschooling or battling the laundry, she’s writing children’s stories, poetry, songs, and mysteries. You might find her fishing the Pee Dee River, hiking in the mountains with her family, or visiting her hometown of Cordova, NC. She lives in Concord, NC, and Being Frank is her first picture book. IMG_1550

Follow Donna’s personal blog here.


If you are looking for a magic formula to make your writing “funny”, you will be looking forever. BUT… we can work hard and learn how to perfect our craft, using every word to its best potential.

Here are a few things to consider when trying to “hit the side of the barn”

  1. Ask yourself, “How do your characters respond to weird and unexpected situations?” This is fertile ground for infusing humor into the story.
  2. Is your character funny? Or are they funny only when in certain situations? How is he or she funny? What makes them tick? Use this informatioin to your advantage. Allow the reader to see the humanity in the character… and thus, the humor.
  3. What internal struggles can be shown through humor? What external struggles can be shown through humor?
  4. Leave room for the unexpected — or your predictable plot becomes an obsolete one.
  5. Is the humor appropriate for the situation your character is in? If not, is that part of the character’s flaws? Does he laugh at the wrong times? Make jokes at the wrong times?
  6. HAVE FUN when you are writing. ENJOY IT! You get to make kids laugh… don’t miss out on the fun of creating!
  7. Humor is subjective. A dear friend of mine despises fart and burp poems. I, on the other hand, find them hilarious. Don’t try to please everyone when writing funny stuff… because you won’t.
  8. Know your target audience and read, read, read! If you are writing a picture book for 3-7 year olds, don’t include jokes about puberty and dating. Read the type of books you want to write, go to conferences, and get critiques. Check out this great resource from Darcy Pattison.
  9. Study the different forms of funny. Try to identify them as you read the types of books you want to write. This will help you see the big picture and vast variety of humor in children’s books. Here are a few that I’ve identified, but definitely not all:

Witty funny, gross funny,

cheeky funny, “punny” funny,

Make you slap your brother-funny,

Hip-sarcastic-deadpan funny.

  1. IMPORTANT: Be aware of the fact that the people who are buying the books (usually the adults) are not going to enjoy the same kind of humor as the ones READING the books (usually the kids). But whatever type of humor you write, remember what the editor told me, “Don’t make the readers the “butt” of the joke.”
  2. Know that it is okay to fail. A lot of humor can come from our “failed” attempts at something. Think about all the stories we write. The characters in our stories and poems usually fail several times before they triumph. Why should we be any different? Some people are naturally gifted at humor, most folks have to work at it. “I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.” – Frank A. Clarke
  3. FUN FACT: It’s okay to look to something OLD in order to make something NEW! Check out one of my most recent poems, The Shark Who Cried Hook. It’s a new take on the old story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf!
  4. Tap into your inner 6 year old, 12 year old, and 17 year old. What made you laugh when you were a child? A teen? A young adult? Make a list for future projects.
  5. Mark Twain once wrote, “Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.” It’s a fine line – but one we must be aware of. A great example to read is, “Hug of War”.
  6. If you are interested in writing funny poetry, or even if you aren’t, head over to Kenn Nesbitt’s site and practice with some of his poetry lessons and prompts. He’s the former Children’s Poet Laureate (2013-15), so you’ll be learning from one of the best!

Langston Hughes once wrote, “”Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”  Who knows? Your “funny writing” just might be the rain that cools someone’s dry, weary land. So go out….

And hit those barns!

Ten things to do by Linda Ashman

la-cropped-as500kb-300x294Many thanks to author Linda Ashman for permission to “borrow” this page from her website.  Linda is the author of more than thirty-five delightful picture books and the creator of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Her books have been included on the “best of the year” lists of The New York Times, Parenting and Child magazines, the New York Public Library, Bank Street College of Education, and the International Reading Association. She leads writing workshops and gives presentations about writing and children’s books at conferences and schools.

Thanks for the great advice, Linda!

Ten things to do if you want to write picture books:

  1. Join SCBWI. And find out what’s happening with your local chapter.
  2. Read craft books. You might start with (ahem) The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books and Ann Paul’s Writing Picture Books.
  3. Read picture books—lots of them. You’ll find recommendations at our group blog, PictureBookBuilders, and many more in The Nuts and Bolts Guide.
  4. Read children’s poetry. Notice the sound, the rhythm, and the way a story can be told or a world created with very few well-chosen words.
  5. Write. Obvious, I know, but somehow it’s easy to let other things take precedence.
  6. Revise, revise, revise. Think you’re done? Revise some more.
  7. Make a dummy or storyboard. Nothing better demonstrates the unique structure of a picture book or shows more clearly if your text is working in this format.
  8. Think visually. Imagine your story as a movie, and leave out anything that doesn’t move the action forward.
  9. Cultivate patience—with your writing (don’t rush!) and with the publishing industry (nothing happens quickly).
  10. Hang in there. Rejection is part of the business. It’s good to have a supportive critique group and/or at least one sympathetic friend.

On My Shelf Again

img_20170205_114710445_hdrThe books that belong On My Shelf have been packed in boxes and out of sight and reach for more than a month. And my “shelf” didn’t even exist. For this writer that’s kind of like trying to type or word process my words with both hands tied behind my back.

True, I can find almost any tidbit of information I want on the Internet. But, I miss my books!

I miss touching them, flipping through the pages, “accidentally” finding nuggets of gold as I scan the pages. I miss scanning their titles as they stand at attention (or, sometimes, at ease or even sound asleep!) On My Shelf. 

However, I am making progress.

Two weeks ago my NEW shelves arrived! I admired their brown cardboard containers as they acclimated to the environment of my office.

img_20170211_141226159_hdrA few days ago my son and grandson came to set those shelves free. Halelujah! Of course, the job was not without complications. What should have taken an hour to accomplish ate up three, almost four hours of their time.

But now My Shelf stands dutifully waiting to be filled.

Over the past few evenings I’ve been ripping into boxes and liberating my books. Just a few more boxes to go.

I’m an organizer. It’s in my DNA. It was joyous and satisfying last night to not only unpack my books, but to put them in the best possible order On My Shelf.

  • My Bibles (more than a few)
  • My Bible reference books and study guides
  • My books for personal and spiritual growth
  • My books about writing
  • A very short stack of anthologies that contain stories I have written (Yay!)
  • Picture books
  • Other children’s books and YAs (I love to encourage other writers by purchasing their books.)
  • A menagerie of reference books ( I know—use the Internet.)
  • Books on leadership
  • Classic fiction books and poetry
  • Notebooks from writer’s conferences and workshops I’ve attended
  • Books and notebooks for courses I have taught at church

See what I mean? I’m enamored with pages dotted with ink.

img_20170214_210822468As I read the titles it was so much like seeing old friends that I haven’t talked to in a while. Reading each title brought back some of the great things I’ve learned from those books. I remembered how those authors inspired, and continue to inspire, me. Some of these books dramatically changed my life.

Those thoughts led me to thank God for those people I’ve never met face-to-face. But I’ve met them on the pages of their books. I’ve seen inside their souls and minds. I’ve felt our kinship, or, our incompatibility sometimes.

Someday I pray that someone will step back from his or her Shelf and see my name on a few book spines. Someday I pray that someone will have similar thoughts of me and the impact my words have had on their lives.




In a positive and godly direction.

The Way Back – Part 6 “Finale”


I did it. It was scary at first, but I finally dove in.


Since last Friday I’ve been tossing weird “What if…” ideas around in my head. Nothing developed from them.

So, I cheated. Just a little.

On my laptop I keep EVERYTHING I write or try to write. I have a folder for each year. Inside those folders are sub-folders for manuscripts, publisher, shards (leftover scraps of phrases, sentences, paragraphs) and quotes, thoughts and ideas that I never developed. I also have a folder for poetry and children’s poetry – mostly containing incomplete works.

I usually start a writing session by warming up on poetry. I may try to create some new poem, or work on a poem that has been on my hard drive for years. Either way, working on poetry gets my writing muscles ready.

Like I said, I cheated. Just a little.

So, I scanned through my junk, thoughts, and ideas folders. I found a few things I had saved from years back. One was a brief conversation I had with my grandson about nine or ten years ago. (I know—I told you I keep everything!)

That little 50 words of conversation birthed the “new” idea I’ve been working on.

I tried framing that idea into poetry. The result is a trilogy of poems that I think have promise for some children’s magazine. I HOPE so! I’ll keep polishing them.

My second attempt was to recreate that conversation as a fiction story for a children’s magazine. That idea definitely needs a great deal of work. But I began that work in spite of my trepidation.

I dove in. I dog-paddled my way around the pool.

Since last Friday I’ve committed to a writing schedule that I think will work for me. I’m committed to one hour of “writing” each morning and one hour each evening.court-friends

It’s a start, right?

I have to admit the water feels great. Refreshing.

So, how did YOUR new idea work out last weekend?

Thanksgiving Day at Our House

Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Thanksgiving Poems for the Very Young

Written by Nancy White Carlstrom           Illustrated by R. W. Alley

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 1999


In Thanksgiving Day at Our House fifteen cute poems dance with colorful, adorable illustrations. Both the poems and the artwork capture the traditions and humor, the colors and confusion, the purpose and silliness of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The jingle-jangle of the short poems appeals to very young children. (ages 2-5, I think) The illustrations do, too. They capture the adorable and sometimes absurd behaviors of preschoolers. The book makes a point of including very young children in Thanksgiving celebrations—an idea I really like.

The poems pay tribute to family and friends. They also remind us of Thanksgiving history and traditions including school pageants and Thanksgiving Day feasts. Three poems are prayers; one for the feast, one for people in need, and finally, a good night prayer of gratitude.

Thanksgiving Day at Our House is a fun read-to book that celebrates both family and Thanksgiving Day.