Ellen Flanagan Burns is a school psychologist and author. She devotes her writing to helping children overcome anxiety. Ellen believes that children’s books can be a powerful therapeutic tool and supports cognitive-based interventions for children with anxiety-related issues. It was fun hearing about her writing process and how she has turned her experiences into helpful books for kids. Plus…. hot yoga?! Yikes!
With that, let me introduce to you Ellen Flanagan Burns!
What book have you written? For Magination Press, I have written Nobody’s Perfect – a story about perfectionism; Ten Turtles on Tuesday – a story about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and The Tallest Bridge in the World – a story about social anxiety
How do you decide what topics to write on? So far, my books center around different manifestations of anxiety. I understand social anxiety, OCD, and perfectionism because I’ve dealt with each on my own, to some degree. They’ve taught me the way anxiety works, what makes it strong and what weakens it. It all starts with what we think. It’s so important to pay attention to what we’re thinking. Does it make sense? Is it in our highest good? Anxiety is a form of fear and it’s a useful reaction when we’re in danger. Every other time though, it’s an illusion of danger. When it comes to social anxiety, or any anxiety disorder, it’s important to do what makes you anxious. It helps to see firsthand that our fears are baseless. Eleanor Roosevelt said it perfectly, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” I can honestly say that I rarely feel anxious anymore. When I do, I pay attention to my thoughts and it goes away. I feel so passionate about helping others with this.
What is fun or unexpected about the writing process? For me, writing is like creating music, all the words go together in a way that not only makes sense, but sound good together. There’s a beat, a tempo and a flow. I’ve also noticed that once I start a new writing project, it takes on a life of its own and unfolds before my eyes. It’s so fun to see where it goes.
What do you do when you’re not writing books? Hot Yoga! It’s a great way to feel balanced in our bodies, mind, and spirit. I’m so interested in the mind/body connection. I worked as a massage therapist for years, but I’ve taken a break for now. I’m also a school psychologist in a high school.
How does it feel to be a published author? Great! I still remember getting the call on my first book, Nobody’s Perfect. I had submitted the manuscript to a few publishers, but didn’t hear anything for quite a while. In fact, so much time had gone by that I had put it out of my mind and began working on other things. I figured it wasn’t being considered any longer. Then one day, out of the blue I got a call from Magination Press asking if Nobody’s Perfect was still available! After I hung up, I started to cry tears of joy. It took 9 years before I was finally published. I was getting standard rejection forms initially and then rejections took a turn and started coming with a personal note and helpful feedback. I paid attention to the feedback!
What children’s book was your favorite when you were growing up? There are so many. The top two that come to mind are:
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. It sends such a powerful message in so few words –to trust yourself and never give up. It’s an important life lesson. I guess I’m a little stubborn. J
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Such a simple but powerful story of love, friendship, life and death.
Any advice for new authors?
- Never, ever give up
- Listen to the feedback you get from publishers
- Write about things you’re passionate about
- Read other works in the same genre
- Put the manuscript down every now and then –then go back to it once your mind has cleared
- Research the topic you’re writing about
What is Tallest Bridge about? It describes the journey Thomas takes as he learns about his social anxiety. Why does he get super nervous when he has to volunteer in class, work in groups or perform in front of others? He gets so nervous that he avoids things that might be fun. It doesn’t make sense because even shy Patrick participates from time to time. Then he meets a nice therapist, who teaches him the tools to overcome his social anxiety – to change his thoughts and face his fears. After some time, Thomas is able to have fun again.
What is your newest book really about? Social Anxiety is when we feel afraid of being judged in some way. Maybe they won’t measure up somehow or be good enough, maybe there’s something weird about us, maybe we’ll say something dumb, or look silly. This is a very common problem. Kids will learn important tools to overcome this way of thinking. Like this… our thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to behaviors, just like a game of dominoes. So, pay attention to your thoughts and make sure they make sense! If they don’t, then change them.
What’s your favorite story from making this book? I had just about finished writing the book when I had this gnawing feeling that I left out an important tool. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Days went by and still I couldn’t shake the feeling. So I waited before submitting the manuscript. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. The mindfulness tool! Of course! Staying in the present moment is like a shield against anxiety. It’s one of the most important tools of all. As it turns out, I worked it into the story in a fun, surprising way, which I never would have done if I thought of it sooner!
What made you want to publish with Magination? Magination Press was my #1 choice in publishers. It’s an honor to have my work supported by the American Psychological Association. I was willing to go with any publisher who would have me, but it was a dream come true, truly the icing on the cake, that it was Magination Press.
What’s another Magination Press book that you like, and why? Too Nice – Who thought being nice could be hurtful? It can be when we’re trying to please everyone but ourselves. This book does a nice job of explaining healthy boundaries.I Don’t Know Why, I Guess I’m Shy – about being shy. It demonstrates what we’re capable of when we turn our focus away from ourselves and onto something or someone we love. The main character discovers that we’re all more alike than different.
Double Dip Feelings – feelings can be confusing. This book does a nice job of explaining them.
Thanks Ellen! We look forward to your NEXT book. 🙂 –ke