Give Joy a Chance—Using a Mantra to Write Your Story

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written by Kathi Appelt

I had barely begun work on my new novel, ONCE UPON A CAMEL, when the pandemic suddenly closed everything down. In a matter of days, the whole world felt dark and forbidding. The news was heartbreaking. One tragedy followed another. One day led to the next and it was hard to fathom everything we were going through.

So many messages were mixed and confusing, plus we had to learn a whole new bag of tricks:

Curbside shopping.

Zoom meetings.

Social distancing.

Masking up.

For me, personally, I had a difficult time concentrating. It was hard not to stay glued to the news, and the news was so grim. I couldn’t help but wonder whether a tale about an old camel actually mattered, especially in light of all the trauma that the entire world was living through.

I was only able to work in short bursts of time, an hour here, an hour there. But what I realized in those short periods was this: the writing brought me joy. It took me away from the news and the turmoil, at least for a little while. Soon, joy became the central fusing thread of my story: the tale of an old camel who has to somehow save two tiny kestrels in the face of enormous difficulties.

I thought to myself: Give joy a chance. And just before I opened my computer each day, I chanted it several times, over and over. Whenever I felt lost or confused, I repeated that mantra over and over.

Amazon Bookshop

It led to a chapter in the middle of my story in which the cameleer is given a thin sheet of the finest gold. He doesn’t know quite what to do with it, but the metal smith tells him to take a walk and to note all the things that bring him joy. The cameleer spies the date palms waving in the ocean breeze, he hears the chiming of the evening bells, he rubs the soft noses of his prized camels. These were the things that filled him up.

“Give joy a chance” became an overarching theme of my camel’s story. And, in the end, it was joy that finally won, and not solely in the book. It spilled over into my life as well, helping me to bear the travesty of the pandemic.

Thinking about it, I can say that all of my stories have a unique mantra of some sort, one that guides me from front to back, even though I might not realize it straightaway.

Writing Prompts:

Below are five mantras for you to consider. They might sound familiar. Try writing a story using one as a central theme. Or better, come up with your own mantra. You might surprise yourself.

  1. There’s love enough.
  2. There’s no place like home.
  3. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
  4. Dream on.
  5. Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

P.S. Here’s a short movie about the camels that my book is based upon. Enjoy!

About Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at Find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest!

Using a Mantra to Write your Story by Kathi Appelt


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  1. Dear Melissa–thank you so much for giving me this space on Imagination Soup!

    On behalf of camels and kestrels everywhere, we appreciate it!