One Writer’s Journey

April 24, 2015

Writer’s Block: How to Start Writing when You’re Stuck Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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Yesterday, I shared a few tips on how to break a block and get going on your fiction writing.  Today, we’re going to discuss nonfiction.

There are a variety of reasons that I get stuck when I’m writing nonfiction.  Generally, it has something to do with getting overwhelmed by my research.  Either the topic feels unfocused or I just have too many amazing facts to share.  How will I work it all in and get where I need to go?

The first step is focusing on where it is I need to go.  What is my goal in writing this piece?  While I have that goal in mind, I write it out.  Okay, what do I need to do to get there?  I make a quick outline.  Does what I have written correspond to this outline?  It doesn’t have to be exact but I have to be honest enough with myself to see where I am off.  That is, after all, how I will get back on track.  It is a bit like starting at the end but with the goal in sight I can find my way.

Sometimes I have my goal, but I still feel a bit lost. This often happens when there is just too much information.  When that’s the case, I take a moment to consider my goal and my topic.  With both of these things in mind, what is the most important thing for my reader to know?  What is needed for my reader to understand this?  Once I have that in mind, I’m ready to write.

The third and final thing that can bring me to a stop is when I have forgotten to have fun with my topic.  In fact, I’ve probably started to sound a bit like an encyclopedia or a college lecture.  When that happens, I need to consider what I love about the topic.  What is fascinating or surprising?  What is more than a little strange?  Which of these will appeal to my young reader?

Goal, topic and reader.  With these things in sight, I am ready to get back to work on my nonfiction project.  Which reminds me.  I have chapter 9 to finish.



April 23, 2015

Writer’s Block: How to Start Writing when You’re Stuck Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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Whether you write fiction or nonfiction or a little bit of both, there are days when the writing just won’t flow.  It might have been going great yesterday or you might be at the beginning of a new piece, but right now nothing is happening.  The words are stuck.  You need to get them going again.  How you do that depends on whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction.

When I get stuck writing fiction, I reread my most recent paragraphs.  Is the voice still on the mark?

If I’ve lost the voice, I go back a few pages and read a section where the voice rang true.  Then I open a new file.  Yes, you read that right.  Open a new file.  This will keep you from rereading the bad bits again.

With the new file open in front of you, try to write that section again.  Sometimes all I need to do to fix the problem is get the sound of the voice in my ear and quit looking at the bad section.  After all, if the voice is wrong, I’m not fixing it, I’m replacing it.

If this fix doesn’t work, then I get out a notebook and leave my desk.  Sitting outside or in the living room, I open the notebook and then address a letter to myself.  What does my main character need to tell me about the story?  What is it that he mosts wants readers to know?  What secret hasn’t he told me?  What am I missing?

I know.  It sounds hokey, but it works for me.  This gives me a feel for my character’s voice and the plot and characters in my story.  Once I have the letter in hand, I’m once again ready to write.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a few tips on how to get going again when you get stuck writing nonfiction.





April 22, 2015

Goodreads Author: Join the Author Program to Promote Your Books

Goodreads: Book reviews, recommendations, and discussionIf you have a book that is listed on Goodreads, market it by joining the Goodread Author Program.  If you have an author listing, a reader who clicks on your by-line will find a list of all of your books.  You can post events and videos and even quizes on your topic as well as hold contests.  I also have One Writer’s Journey posted on my profile.

Joining is easy.  First, sign in to Goodreads.  If you aren’t a Goodreads member, you’ll have to register first,  If you are, log in and then search for your book.

When you pull it up, you will see your by-line.  Click on it.

This takes you to your author profile page.  If you aren’t part of the Author Program, this page is going to be pretty scant but you can fix that.  Scroll to the bottom and click “is this you? let us know.”

This will let you send a request to join.  Easy peasy mac-n-cheesy.  They say it takes them a few days to process requests.  I think it took one day.

I’ve already removed my birthday from my listing, added a photo of my book cover, and linked my blog into my new profile.  There are tons of things that I can do, now I just need to decide what to do next.  Any suggestions?


April 21, 2015

Banned books: ALA puts out list of 2014 most challenged books

And the winner of the most banned book for 2014 is…a great read!

I’m not sure what it says about me but I probably get more excited about the ALA banned books list than I do about the Newbery Awards.  Maybe it’s just that with my sense of humor and personality, I could one day have a banned book.  The Newbery feels must more remote.

Anyway, the ALA (American Library Association) just put out their list of the most challenged books for 2014.  Not surprisingly, there are some old favorites.

1) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence, and depictions of bullying.

This is one of my favorite books.  In fact, I gush so much over it that my son read it for lit class.  He highly recommends it because the characters are real.  When I asked him to elaborate, he explained that they weren’t too good to be true. “There’s a character for everyone in there.”

2) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, racially offensive, and graphic depictions.

3) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and promotes the homosexual agenda.

I. Love. This. Book.  Of course, I think it is hilarious that three penguins are being accused of promoting anything let alone “the homosexual agenda.”  We won’t even go into my view points concerning that phrase — just remember that if I am never banned, it will be surprising.  If you haven’t read it, this is a picture book about two adult penguins in a zoo who raise a young penguin.  Yes, they are two adult males but this is a book about family and caring, not about sex.  And the penguins aren’t at all religious so if you’re an atheist, don’t worry.  They won’t offend you with their viewpoint.  I’m not sure what religious viewpoint the banners were griping about.

4) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, and contains controversial issues.

I haven’t read this one but my sister adores this book.  It is an adult book, but we assign adult books to teens all the time.  Huck Fin. Tom Sawyer.  The Grapes of Wrath.  All adult books that my son has read in class.

5) It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and “alleges it child pornography.”

Well, it is a nonfiction book about sex.  So, yeah. It’s going to be in there.  I love that someone picked this book up and then freaked because it was sex education. That is kind of the point.  That’s like ordering halibut in a restaurant and griping because you hate fish.

6) Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

I haven’t read this one but it’s an adult graphic novel.  I really do wonder about the anti-family bit since the description reads like interracial Romeo and Juliet in space.  So, you know I’ve requested it.

7) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.

Again, it is an adult book.  We assign them all the time.  But it has some pretty hard to handle stuff in it — stuff that we don’t seem to be concerned about weeding out of the real world. Ahem.

8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky  Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.

9) A Stolen Life Jaycee Dugard. Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

10) Drama by Raina Telgemeier.  Reasons: sexually explicit.

The only objection to this one is that it’s sexually explicit but it is a graphic novel for middle graders.  Hmm.  Not going to pass judgement without seeing it for myself so I’ve requested this one too.

There are some amazing reads on this list!


April 20, 2015

Possible markets: Publishers seeking manuscripts

Call for SubmissionsHere are two opportunities that you might want to examine.

MeeGenius is an app for iPad, Android, and other mobile devices.  The stories are for readers ages 2-8 and combine a reader reading the text, illustration and sound.  The Acquisition editor, Ashley Fedor, formerly worked at Penguin Books.  MeeGenius is looking for stories that are 15-20 pages in length with 20-70 words per page. Writers do not need to provide illustrations.  Find out more and submit online here.

I have a piece that I’m considering for MeeGenius.  It was accepted by a publisher who then went out of business.  Sad, but sad happens.  I like that MeeGenius has books that have been published in print by other publishers.  And, no, I don’t mean fly-by-night.  These books include Frog and Toad, Fancy Nancy and Biscuit. That’s company I’d definitely like to keep.

The other opportunity is with Nickelodeon.  Apparently they have a new program, Script First!, to develop new programing. They are looking for scripts that are 3-5 pages long and is a self-supporting story.  To be eligible, the script must be original, have relatable characters for the core audience of boys and girls ages 6 to 11, and be something that can be animated.  All genres are welcome but it has to be funny.  Find out more about this opportunity here.   The deadline is May 15, 2015.

That’s it for now.  I hope that someone has a manuscript that will work for one of these markets.



April 17, 2015

Free Books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:37 am
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I love to research my latest and greatest book topic.  Ferreting out treasures is a treat but it is a treat that can get expensive fast.  Fortunately, if my topic involves art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has made 422 of their books available for free download here at MetPublications.  Yes, you can still buy the print copy for many of the titles but you can also download an e-copy for free.  Given the fact that my current bibliography is up to 145 and counting, this could mean a huge savings when it comes to ordering books that aren’t available through the library.

The books that immediately caught my eye included:

  • Al Andalus: the Art of Islamic Spain ($175.00 POD)
  • Along the Riverbank: Paintings from the CC Wong Family Collection ($100 POD)
  • The Armored Horse in Europe
  • The Art of Illumination
  • The Art of Ancient Egypt

You can either browse the catalog as I did or search by topic or key word.  The offerings are diverse including books on a wide range of topics. Take some time to browse and you may find a little not-so-light reading to illuminate your evenings.



April 16, 2015

Word Count: One Key to Professionalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:06 am
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word countKnowing your way around word count is one of the key ways to look like a professional in the writing world.

First things first, it is important to know the length of the typical book in your category.  Submit a 1500 word preschool picture book and the editor reading your manuscript will know she’s dealing with someone who doesn’t know picture books.  A 10,000 word middle grade novel will have the same effect as will a 30,000 word young adult fantasy. The fact of the matter is that you need to know enough about your type of book to be close if not in the ball park.

Yes, there are books that break the rules — Harry Potter was long for a middle grade — but these books are the exception.  They have to be extraordinary.

You have to pay just as much attention to word count when you are writing for magazines.  When Highlights says that they want 400 – 600 words, they don’t want 350 or 700.  When putting together a magazine, especially a print magazine, editors know that they have X amount of space available for a craft, Y for an article, and Z for a folktale.  That means that your words have to fill that space without running over.  Giving the editor what she needs is one way to look like a pro.

The key to doing this is to do it without padding your work to pass the minimum or cutting it to the bone to stay below the max.

Wordcounts aren’t arbitrary so learn to work with them to work your way onto a publisher’s list.



April 15, 2015

Empathy: One of the Best Ways to Hook Your Reader

Don’t you hate it when you pick up a book and just can’t get into it?  The main character is whiney.  Her problem is trivial.  You simply can’t wait to get back to cleaning the house.

When that happens, the author has failed to generate reader empathy.  Empathy is one of the best ways to hook a reader and keep him turning the pages.

Rachel Hartman uses empathy when she gives us Seraphina, a character who has to hide the fact that she is half dragon for fear that those around her will hate her.  Chances are that you and I have very little experience hiding our dragon ancestry but most of us have something that we don’t want other people to find out.  Some of us even have to hide something, like our sexuality, that we can do nothing to change. This creates empathy with a character who has a similar problem.

Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale opens with Max standing in the yard of his burning foster home.  When, in spite of his innocense, he is accused of starting the fire, readers empathize.  Perhaps they’ve never been foster children or never been accused of starting a fire, but everyone has been frustrated when accused of something they didn’t do and would never do.

Readers empathize because they recognize the emotion. Situations and emotions can both be used to create empathy.  This empathy hooks the reader and keeps them reading until the end. To read about how to hook your nonfiction read, check out my post today at the Muffin.


April 14, 2015

Promotional Items

I hadn’t intended to write about promotional items this week but I saw a blog post about the most creative business cards and WOW some of these things are amazing.  You can see the entire line-up in the video below.  That said, I turned off the annoying sound track. Still some of the business cards really made me think.

I especially liked the ones that were interactive: the bike tool business card from the bike shop, the hair dresser card that you rolled into a little person with wacky hair, the photographer’s card that was a clear plastic view finder, and the adventure company’s card that was edible dried meat.  (Ick!)

So what would be interactive and clever for a writer in general or for a particular book?

A spider web on a clear plastic bookmark for Charlotte’s Web.

Blood red nail polish in a bottle with the title and author for Dracula.

A blue semi-transparent bookmark patterned with sea weed for a mermaid story.

My Maya story calls out for a stone knife book mark or a create-your-own stella bookmark.

Pearl Harbor?  A plane spotters guide?

What about your books?  Or your favorite classics?




April 13, 2015

Writing Position: Writer-in-Residence

help wantedIf you’re a writer living in the Boston area, you’re in luck.  The Boston Public Library (BPL) has announced the 2015-2016 Children’s Writer-in-Residence program.

The nine-month program will give the writer who fills the position:

  • A $20,000 stipend.
  • Office space at BPL’s Central Library.
  • The time and space to complete one piece of writing for children or young adults.
  • The chance to network and make connections within the literary community through library readings, workshops, and other activities.

The residency runs Sept. 2015 through May 2016.  During this time, the writer must work at least 19 hours/week at the library.

If you are a US citizen who writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, or poetry for children or young adults, find out more, including how to apply, here.


Application deadline: April 30, 2015.


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