One Writer’s Journey

January 22, 2020

SCBWI Grant: The Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award

Early in my career, I used to apply for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) grants. But I have to admit that I haven’t applied for a grant or mentorship in quite some time.  It isn’t that I think I know all there is to know, but I do feel that I’ve already benefitted from my work through the organization.  Still, I’m tempted by the The Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award.

This award is given annually to a Most Promising Picture Book manuscript. To have your work considered:

  • You must be an SCBWI member.
  • The manuscript must be under 1000 words.
  • The manuscript cannot be under contract.
  • You must not have sold a picture book manuscript in the last three years.

I’m a little surprised that the manuscript must be submitted by snail mail.  So be sure to keep that in mind if you’d like to submit.  Give yourself enough time to get your manuscript to the post office.

The work will be judged anonymously so you have to reformat your manuscript removing contact information from the first page, your byline and your name in the header.  A cover sheet containing contact information and the title of the manuscript enables SCBWI to contact the winners.

If this sounds like something you would like to enter, submissions are open from February 1, 2020 through April 1, 2020. To find out where to send your work and to review the rules, click through here.  You can also read Ann Whitford Paul’s summaries of last years selections (1 winner and 2 honorable mentions) here.

The winner of the grant will be announced mid-May.  Still not sure this is worth your while?  The winner will receive  $1000.


January 21, 2020

Concentration: How to Get It Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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I’m not sure how it happened.  I must have said yes not once but several times.

But as I’m trying to work, various notes pop up at the bottom of my monitor. There are news headlines for things that I seldom actually consider newsworthy.  And there are crafting patterns.  I knit, crochet, and weave but I honestly find enough patterns without images popping up as I attempt to write.

These things are hell on my concentration.

I just read a post from author Nathan Bransford about trying to focus.  He found that he was having a hard time coming up with writing ideas.  He couldn’t concentrate when it came time to sit down and write.  Reading even a news article was impossible.  Before he reached the end of the piece, he’d find himself clicking to check something else.

If focus is an issue for you, whether you are trying to read or write, Bransford has several recommendations.  Turn of the notifications on your phone and your computer.  Every now and then, it might truly be beneficial to know the moment a message arrives.  But look at what you get over the course of a day and you’ll realize that most of it could wait.

It may take you only a moment to check and see what that alert is for but it has still broken your concentration.  Four times a week at a minimum I completely shut off my phone — during yoga on Monday and Wednesday mornings, during choir practice on Thursday and during Sunday church service.  Honestly, these are four of my favorite times throughout the week and I don’t think it is a coincidence.

Even if you aren’t willing to do away with them completely, turn off notifications when you work.  I think you’ll be surprised just how much more productive you are.  Me?  I’m going to turn some of them off completely.  I don’t need to know the moment that yarn sale e-mail pops into my in-box.


January 20, 2020

Ten Most Checked Out Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:10 am
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In celebration of its 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library ran the numbers to see which 10 books have been checked out the most.  I have to admit that there were a few surprises.

The top 10 books along with their circulation numbers are:

  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: 485,583 checkouts
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: 469,650 checkouts
  • 1984 by George Orwell: 441,770 checkouts
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 436,016 checkouts
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 422,912 checkouts
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: 337,948 checkouts
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: 316,404 checkouts
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 284,524 checkouts
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: 231,022 checkouts
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: 189,550 checkouts

I’m really glad that there are so  many books for young readers.  I expected there to be a Dr. Seuss book but why couldn’t it have been one of my favorites?  As a child, my favorite was One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, quite possibly because it was the only Dr. Seuss book we owned.  My mother loathed Dr. Seuss.  As a teen and even today, my favorite is The Lorax.

I’m a little disappointed Twain didn’t make it.  But my dad was a Twain fan so I grew up on Twain.  My favorite?  Connecticut Yankee.

I’ve read eight of the ten books.  Although I’ve read bits and pieces of both Fahrenheit 451 and How to Win Friends and Influence People, I’ve never read either book in their entirety.  I’m going to do something about that.

But I have read 1984 several times.  I read it in 9th grade when I was reading all kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction including 1984 and Brave New World.  Then lit teachers started assigning 1984.  

So now manyof these books have you read?  If you want to read more about the study and the results, there is an article here on NPR.


January 17, 2020

Free Maps: Maps of Exploration from the Library of Congress

I can’t tell you why.  All I know is that I have a thing for maps.  Historic, modern, with or without political boundaries.  It doesn’t really matter.  If I see a map, I’m going to take a look.

So it really isn’t very surprising that when I saw this blog post from the Library of Congress, I did a happy dance.  The title of the post? Free to Use and Reuse: Maps of Discovery and Exploration.

For those of you who don’t already know about this page, the library has made various items from their digital collection available for people to download and use for free.  My favorite Map of Discovery and Exploration?  California as an island.  Apparently fake news isn’t a new thing!

Other categories on this page include Posters of World War I, Veterans, Baseball Cards, Cats and Dogs.  For the most part, these digital offerings consist of visuals – photographs, postcards, posters, maps, letters, etc.  But there is one section of movies – Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry.

What are you going to find?  First I spotted a black and white image of two children.  Little did I know that I was clicking on “Duck and Cover,” a piece of Civil Defense . . . media?  Frankly, my first inclination is to call it propaganda.  There’ s also a western with Roy Rogers, an ethnographic film shot in Bali in 1951, and a Popeye cartoon from 1936.

Writing something set in the past?  Whether you are working on fact or fiction, it would be worthwhile to check out the holdings at the Library of Congress.  After all, primary sources can be a window onto past events. You might even be able to find something in this section that you could use to publicize your work.



January 16, 2020

Writing Advice: Who Is Telling You What to Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:03 am
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Earlier this week, I read an interesting post from agent Scott Eagan at Greyhaus Literary. In “Who Taught You to Write Your Novel,” Eagan discusses looking carefully at whose advice you are following online or from writer’s workshops.

The example Eagan gives is chilling.  He writes about people who are “expert” speakers, giving presentations about various aspects of the writing field.  But there actual writing expertise and success are both fairly limited.  They are not what they pretend to be.

I have to admit that I’ve encountered this in critique group settings as well.  There is often that one person who gives firm advice on picture book writing or novel writing or both.  This person sounds authoritative but really has no experience unless you count that unpaid piece in an online publication.

The reality is simple.  You need to be careful whose advice you take.

There are exceptions of course.  The librarian who has read 1249 picture books during story time but just started writing is going to have a feel for picture books.  The reading recover teacher is going to know what new readers struggle with. These people may not have a writing resume but they have experience.

Me?  When someone asks for a critique of a board book or something else that I know little or nothing about, I put my lack of expertise out there for all to see. I’m willing to read and reflect but I’m also willing to point out that my advice may be questionable at best.

January 15, 2020

Back Up Your Blog!

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:45 am
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Every now and again my computer pulls up a message. “Back up hard drive.”  But it doesn’t remind me to back up my Back upblog.  I got that reminder today when I popped over to a favorite writing blog.  Instead of a post on how to write biography for children, there was something written in Japanese.  At least it looked like Japanese.

Granted, it doesn’t seem likely that someone would hack my blog or that WordPress would have a melt down but I’ve been blogging since November 2008.  That would be a lot of content to have swirling down the proverbial loo.

Here are 3 easy steps to back up your WordPress blog.

  • In the left hand sidebar, click on Tools.
  • When the menu pops up, select Export.
  • Under “Choose What to Export,” select “All Content” and then click “Download Export File.”

The purpose behind this command is to allow you to export your data to another WordPress blog but it is also the best way to quickly back up your blog.  It took me 12 seconds to back up this blog.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have several more back ups to run.


January 14, 2020

National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: Jason Reynolds

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, announced yesterday that the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature will be Jason Reynolds.  He’ll be sworn in on Thursday.

Yesterday, I kept seeing his photo on social media.  Hmm.  Must be some celebrity.  Then I realized that it was my book people sharing this guy’s photo.  I clicked through and saw what the announcement was about and the cover for Long Way Down —

Oh, oh!  I love that book!

What can I say?  I’m a reader more than I am a viewer.  I could have passes Jason Reynolds in the street and never known it.

If you aren’t familiar with Reynolds work, get to the library and check out his books.  Long Way Down is about a fifteen year-old who plans to avenge his brother’s death.  In the elevator, riding down to street level, he meets seven ghosts.  Each of them has something important to tell him, something that just might change his mind.

Awesome book.  If I thought of myself as a fiction writer, I’d be jealous.

And, no, he didn’t get this position by virtue of the fact that he’s written one book I love. He has sold 15 books with his first coming out in 2014.

His focus as National Ambassador will be reaching out to young people in small-town America with a platform he calls “Grab the Mic: Tell Your Story.” Reynolds believes that young people should read more.  But he also knows young people and how they work.  Telling them to read is going to do no good.  In fact, it will encourage them not to read.

Instead, he says, we need to meet them where they are.  Interact with them.  Make a connection and they will want to keep that connection open.

Not exactly what we introverted writers want to hear but clearly Reynolds knows what he is talking about.  15 books since 2014 people.



January 13, 2020

Polish: The Final Step in the Writing Process

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:57 am
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I’m teaching a new online class this month, “Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.”  Of course, this means that I’m also working up a set of new lessons.  My husband just proofed my second lesson.  But I’ve got one more step before it goes out – applying the polish.

I know a lot of writers who draft on paper before they key in a new manuscript. I work on-screen from the beginning.  I almost always print the piece out and edit a hard copy.  That’s the best way for me to catch repetition and wherever I get wordy.

But the last step of all is polish.  For this step, I listen to my work.

No, that doesn’t mean that I read it aloud.  When I read something aloud, after a few sentences, I find myself once again reading in my head.  Rereading my work is good but I really need to hear it.  So I use a Word feature called Speak. You aren’t going to locate this feature easily; we are talking about Word, after all.  But here’s how to add it to your Quick Access Toolbar.

  1. In Word, the default location for the Quick Access Toolbar is the upper left corner of the screen.  On the far right of this Toolbar is a black arrow pointing down. Hover the mouse over this arrow and it says “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”  Click on this arrow.
  2. This opens a drop down menu titled Customize Quick Access Toolbar.  Mouse down to More Commands and select this option.
  3. This opens the Word Options menu.  In the dialogue box, Choose Commands From, Popular Commands will be selected.  In this dialogue box, scroll down to All Commands and select.
  4. Scroll down through the menu list until you find Speak. Select and then click the “Add >>” button.  Speak will now appear in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar  on the right hand side of this menu box.
  5. At the bottom right of this menu box, click OK which will save this option and close the menu box.

Once you have installed Speak, all you need to do is select the text that you want the program to read and then click the Speak icon on your Toolbar. I do not love the mechanical sounding computerized voice and some of the pronounciations are hilarious — wind (as in blowing) is not in her vocabulary so she prounces it like “wind your watch.”  That said, unlike me, she doesn’t forget to read aloud and only read in her head.

Using Speak I catch typos, issues with tense and number and when I use a word too often.  It isn’t a major re-write but it helps me apply the final polish to my work.


January 10, 2020

Webinars: One Way to Expand Your Writing Knowledge

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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This past week, my accountability group has been discussing what we want to learn in 2020.  Specifically, we are focusing on what we want to learn about writing.  We’ve discovered, one and all, that learning something new helps us stay energized and enthusiastic.

Some of us want to learn something new because we want to try writing in a new genre.  Me?  I’m contemplating learning about writing mysteries for young readers.  Fortunately, Cynthia Surrisi is teaching a webinar on just this topic.  You can read more about it here.  Maybe you want to learn about world building in fantasy.  If so, you’re in luck because agent Moe Ferrara is teaching a webinar.

Others of us want to learn more about the business of writing.  Me?  I’ve got plans to stop wondering about SEO and actually learn something.  Dr. Jason McDonald is offering a webinar next week.  Cutting excess words from your picture book is another webinar topic.

If you’ve never taken part in a webinar, think of them as workshops.  There is a speaker.  There are often handouts.  And the object is for you to learn something that you can apply.  Often you can ask questions ahead of time or during the webinar through a chat screen.  Personally, I tend not to ask questions because most of mine are answered if I listen.

Sometimes you can have a manuscript critiqued by the speaker.  Other times, if the speaker is an agent or editor, there is a window during which you can submit and your work moves to the top of the slush pile.

Me?  I prefer webinars that are recorded.  No, this doesn’t mean that they are recorded ahead of time and the event is simply the recording being played.  But it does mean that if you can’t attend the event, you can watch the recording at a later date.

It may seem like a lot of work to find out about all of these webinars but SCBWI webinars are listed on a page created by the Nevada region.  You can find it here.  Check back often to find out what is being offered by Hawaii, Alaska or even Israel.  These events are a great option for those who find travel difficult or need a bit of inspiration between conferences.


January 9, 2020

Picture Book Writing: Staying Motivated Year Round

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:01 am
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I always start the year with great intentions.  Surely I can rough 12 or 15 different manuscripts!   And, in reality, I could.  A rough is easy peasy.  Rewriting it and making it work?  That’s tough.

What is really hard for me is staying motivated. A work-for-hire project comes along and I don’t get those rough drafts done. The words start really flowing on my novel and that takes priority, pushing picture book rewrites aside.

Staying motivated is tough!

Fortunately, Writers’ Rumpus is here to help.  Each month, they post all of the picture book opportunities that they discover.  They just posted for January.

Some items are available at no cost.  For January, those include:

  • Color Collective: A color-based illustration challenge.
  • Ditty of the Month: A poetry writing challenge.
  • Illustration Friday:  Challenges illustrators with a theme for week.  I’ve used the prompt and also the illustrations to generate ideas.
  • Nonfiction Fest:  This is free but you have to register in January.
  • Storystorm: Tara Lazar’s idea generation challenge.

Other items involve a cost, including:

  • 12×12 Picture Book Challenge:  I’m not sure what this one costs but I’ve had friends due it and they have many positive things to say.
  • Rate Your Story: Subscription for manuscript critiques by industry professionals.
  • Storyteller Academy: Courses about writing and illustrating for children.

So far, I’ve signed up for both Storystorm and also Nonfiction Fest.  I suspect that each month I’ll take advantage of an item or two.  And, in all truth, if that leads to a new manuscript a month or even every other month that is a good thing.

Two other things that help me stay motivated?  My critique group and my accountability group.  My critique group meets monthly and we critique each others work in addition to discussing markets.  My accountability group is online.  In addition to goal setting and motivating each other, we also critique.  Knowing that there are people waiting to read my work keeps me moving forward.

Take a look at the listings on Writers’ Rumpus.  With a wide variety of programs listed, one of them is bound to be a good fit.


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