4 Cognitive Functions: Use All to Strengthen Your Writing

Last week, I saw an interesting piece by K.M. Weiland about using all 4 cognitive functions to strengthen your writing.  First things first, I had to find out what they are.  Here is a bit on each and how to build them up.


As explained by Weiland, intution is an abstract quality.  Think instinct or hunch.  For me, it is all about making logical leaps and connections.

Develop intuition by learning by noodling over your work and looking for patterns.  Play off your hunches and pay attention when you have the feeling that something just is not working.


Sensing goes with intuition but stands in contrast to it.  Intuition is abstract.  Sensing is about the concrete.  What do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel?

Develop this by practicing using your senses in a variety of situations.  It is tempting to rely on sight when we describe something so make a point of working the other senses into your story or description.


In spite of the term “thinking,” this isn’t all about thoughts.  It is about weighing, evaluating, and organizing information.

Develop this by writing.  Plot out that novel.  Learn to judge whether or not you’ve made logical leaps in your writing or if your claims are balanced and precise.


Feeling is often seen as “only” emotion.  Ironically, as Weiland points out, during times like we are experiencing in 2020, many people shy away from their feelings as simply too raw and weighty.  But we need a certain amount of emotion in our writing because it is something that readers connect with.

Develop feeling in your writing by looking for the emotional truth.  This doesn’t mean that you have to go for big, overdrawn emotion but readers can identify with a character that is unlike themselves in many ways through common emotion.

Do you rely on all four cognitive functions in your writing?  Most of us favor some at the expense of others.  Figure out which are your strengths so you know which ones you need to develop.


Writing Challenge: In One Word Poem

I only recently read April Halprin Wayland’s post about writing an “In One Word” poem.  If you write poetry, please don’t be offended when I refer to this as a fun challenge.  I’m not belittling poetry!   But since I don’t write it for sale, it is fun writing.  It is something I do for the pleasure of creation.  There’s no pressure to sell.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way on to the “In One Word” poem.  And I have to admit that I initially misunderstood the challenge.  I thought you had to write a poem based on a single word with the word at the end of each line meaning the same thing as your word.  While you could do that, it would be something else.

In this challenge, first you pick a word.  It can be something that irritates you, inspires you or that you are curious about.  The longer the word is the better.  Once you have chosen your word, for example MISUNDERSTOOD, you write out all the words that can be made from those letters.  So for misunderstood, I would include:

  • under
  • stood
  • mist
  • mud
  • mood
  • stun
  • sun
  • son
  • rod
  • rode
  • room

I was fairly impressed with this list until I looked up “misunderstood” on Word Maker.  Apparently you can make 1701 words from the letters found in “misunderstood.”  Obviously, I missed “undestood” which I might want to use.  But I also missed “urine.”  I really don’t see myself needing that one.

You can write your poem line by line.

Or you can do what Wayland suggests and write it in a single paragraph as a prose poem and then add your line breaks.

Here is my first attempt at an “In One Word Poem.”

He stood before the crowd hoping to stun.  His words flowed the sounds rising and falling until he stopped. The mood had grown sour.  How could they have misunderstood?

Formatting it with the line breaks, it woudl be:


He stood
before the crowd hoping to stun.
His words flowed, the sounds
rising and falling until he stopped. The mood
had grown sour.
How could they have misunderstood?

I’m not going to claim brilliance but someone is shooting off enormous fireworks.  Not the bright sparkly kind.  Just boom, Boom, BOOM.

Hmm.  Maybe I should do one with the word “fireworks.”  After all, I’d have 170 words to work with.



3 Reasons to Take Part in Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo - Writer - BadgeFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Camp NaNoWriMo, this is a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge that takes place twice a year, in April and July.  What’s the challenge?  You get to decide.

Maybe you need to finish drafting your novel.  Maybe you need to send out queries.  Whatever.  You set the goal.

Why bother?  Here are three reasons.


That’s right.  Reason number one is this year.  This incredible, over-whelming year.  I have to say, March and April I wrote and wrote.  Pandemic?  Pfft.  I had deadlines.  Now I’ve met my deadlines and gotten two rejections in three days. I need some encouragement and a . . .


I make my best progress when I have a deadline.  And I don’t mean my own deadline.  External deadlines are superior.  If it is just my deadline, I can find a reason to blow it off.  See, there’s this new opportunity that is only available for two months.  I signed up for a class.  My shower floor really needs to be scrubbed.  Nope, I need an external deadline to keep me moving.  And I am seriously Type A so this works even better because I am part of a . . .


Post your goal at NaNoWriMo.org and become part of the community.  There are events and motivationsl bits, but even if you don’t spend a lot of time interacting with your fellow writers, you have publicly announced your goal.  This means that other people can see whether I succeed or fail.  In truth, 99.9% of them probably don’t care but that’s not keeps me moving.  It is the fact that they could notice.  And more importantly, I notice.

I know, I know.  There are drawbacks to being goal driven.  I get that.  But I also know myself well enough to know that if I want to get this done . . . I’ve been fiddling around for months . . . I need to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo.  You can find me on their site as Nonfiction Writer! Is anyone with me?


Learning to Research Your Nonfiction

Yesterday I posted about my course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. If you are interested in writing nonfiction but don’t know where to start, I am also teaching Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  Like my writing course, this one is also offered through WOW! Women on Writing.

Here is the detailed weekly plan:

Week One: Topics and Slants

Whether you are interested in writing history, STEAM, or crafts, it is important to start your project with research so you know what has already been written. This lesson will also explore how to create multiple slants, subtly shifting the topic or the age level, to find space for your idea in the current market. Slanting can also enable you to create multiple pieces around one topic and one set of research.

Assignment: Select, narrow, and slant a topic to be used throughout the course. This assignment also includes making sure there is space in the market for your idea.

Week Two: To Market

While there are a large number of markets that buy nonfiction for children and young adults, it is important to learn how to evaluate these magazines, publishers and other possibilities. Not every market is suitable for every writer and which one you approach will depend on your interests, your voice and your goals.

Assignment: Review possible markets for your topic. Analyzing two of these markets will help you see which is more suited to your work.

Week Three: Starting Your Research

A nonfiction manuscript is only as good as the material that goes into creating it. This week, students will learn the difference between primary and secondary sources and how to evaluate accuracy and source bias.

Assignment: Start gathering your research, focusing on secondary materials. You will review what is covered by these sources and look for gaps in the published sources.

Week Four: Primary Sources

This week will focus on why you want to include primary sources as well as where to find these sources online and “in person.” There will also be information on how to do photo and map research and how to conduct interviews to fill in the gaps identified in the previous assignment. This lesson will also discuss how to know when you have enough material to start writing.

Assignment: You can do one of two things for this assignment. Develop a bibliography of primary sources, including where these materials are located. —OR— Prepare to conduct an interview. This includes identifying a possible expert to approach and writing up your interview questions.

Do let me know if you have any questions.


Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults

Do you want to write nonfiction for young readers?

On July 6, the first session of my course Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults will begin.  Here is a detailed weekly plan.

Week One: Starting with a Plan

Whether you are interested in writing history, STEAM, or crafts, it is important to start with a plan. We will discuss the various projects everyone wants to work on.  Then the lesson will explore how to organize your material. Often this takes the form of an outline. Some outlines are spare and simple while others are more complex. You will also learn what to do when your outline fails to come together.

Assignment:  Complete and turn in an outline for your project.  Be prepared to discuss the various options that you tried.

Week Two:  Drafting Your Manuscript

Once you have a plan, you are ready to start writing your first draft.  We will discuss why it is important to keep the age of your reader in mind as you write and how you can use fiction techniques to build scenes that will pull your reader in.  This lesson will also cover what to do when the words simply will not flow or you find a gap in your research.

Assignment:  Working from your outline, rough out your manuscript.  You may not get it all done in one week.  Don’t panic!  Prepare up to twenty pages to submit for this assignment.

 Week Three: Rewriting and Revising

Roughing out your manuscript is only the first step in actually writing.  Next you will learn how to evaluate your draft and how to hone your work in subsequent drafts.  Yes – it will almost certainly take more than one pass to revise and rewrite your manuscript.  This lesson will also discuss identifying what you can cut from the manuscript.

Assignment: Rewrite your draft, submitting up to 20 pages for review.

Week Four:  The Extras that Can Help Make a Sale

You’ve drafted a smooth, well-written manuscript but there is often more than you can do to help make a sale.  This is your chance to add extras that will help make your work more appealing to readers, teachers, and/or an editor.  We will discuss sidebars, activities, marketing strategies, teacher’s guides, and more as well as what to include when.

Assignment: Write at least one “extra” or develop a marketing strategy for your book manuscript.

I am teaching this through WOW Women on Writing.  You can find out more about the class here.  Do let me know if you have any questions!



4 Collections on Racism and Inequality from Hoopla

With public interest up, both libraries and bookstores are finding it difficult to keep books on racism, inequality, and racial injustice on their shelves.  One solution for libraries and library patrons comes from hoopla.

Hoopla is a digital platform that makes books available through libraries.  In response to the demand for these titles, hoopla (and yes, uncapitalized is correct) has currated four collections for young and adult readers.  I found out about this when a Google search on my name (a great way for authors to find out where their books are) turned up Black Lives Matter on one of their lists.

If your library uses a hoopla subscriber, you can check out one or all of these books.  I’ve already got holds on several of them and plan to request several more.

hoopla digital curated collections of books that address systemic racism and issues of racial injustice. Acclaimed books for kids and young adult readers are among the hundreds of instantly available titles.The Kids Collection includes 

  • New Kid by Jerry Craft.  Note from Sue:  This is an AMAZING title.  
  • Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh  Another great one.
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano and Donald Moses I’ve read about this but not yet read it.  Will definitely be requesting it tonight.  
  • The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson If you have troubles finding this one, look it up with the author’s name.  Not sure why that was nec. but it was.  

The Young Adult collection includes acclaimed titles like:

  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
  • Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris
  • Pushout by Monique W. Morris
  • The March Series by U.S. Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin.  A great series of graphic novels.  Did you know a movie about Lewis is coming out?

hoopla digital’s collection provides instant access to books that are sold out on the retail market. The books are available instantly via the hoopla digital mobile app or website to anyone with a valid library card.The Adult eBooks and Audiobooks collections include:

  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad.  Waiting for this one.  
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo  And waiting for this one.  
  • The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton  This one I’m not familiar with, possibly because it is adult nonfiction which is not my strength.
  • On Account of Race by Lawrence Goldstone
  • Solitary by Albert Woodfox
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi  Don’t be put off by this because it was written for academics.  Kendi is a strong writer and this is very readible. 

Take the time to learn what you do not know.  It is something we should always be doing.  You can view the original article here.




Three Reasons Representation Matters

Representation.  Often when writers use this word we are talking about being represented by an agent.

But for our readers there is a meaning that is vastly more important.  Representation also means that readers should be able to see themselves in the books they read.  Thus it is vital that all kinds of characters be present in books.

I’ve always said this but now I really get it thanks to the video that Linda Sue Park shared this weekend.  Check it out.

It is easy to imagine that this girl had seen dolls that were like her in many ways – gender, race, and probably the type of family that she lives in.  But never had she seen a doll that shared what made her different, her prosthetic leg.

Should I be the one to write a story about this girl?  No.  It isn’t an experience that I know anything about.  I did go to highschool with a young man who had only one leg, but I didn’t know him beyond greeting him in the hallway.

This girl’s reaction is the number one reason that representation matters.

Number two is that it does us all good to see people who are unlike ourselves.  It is vital for us to understand that not everyone has had our experience.  And through this we get the third reason that varied representation is vital.

It helps build empathy.  By seeing something of the variety of humanity reflected in books, we have a bit more willingness and ability to empathize with a wide variety of people.  When someone says that X is not their experience, we are more likely to listen because we see that many people have many different experiences.

Whether we are talking picture books or young adult, graphic novels or nonfiction, readers need to see a wide variety of characters represented.


5 Places to Find Inspiration

Where do you get your ideas?”  That’s a question I dread because, I suspect, that my answer is atypical.  I find them wherever I happen to be, whatever I am reading, watching or paying attention to.  And my own story idea is often fairly unrelated to what inspired me.

For the past two days, I haven’t been feeling all that great.  So I spent this morning with grumble gut sprawled on the sofa.  While I crocheted, I listened to The Splended and the Vile, a book that focuses on Churchill and England during WWII.  I have had no less than three story ideas pop into my head while listening to this.  One was thoroughly substandard so I didn’t write it in my journal.  One I wrote down in my journal.  And the third I roughed this afternoon.  It has absolutely nothing to do with Churchill, England, WWII, or aeroplanes.

So where should you look for inspiration?  Among the things that interest.

  1. Look for ideas while you read books you enjoy. You never know when some side comment while inspire a book or article idea.
  2. Pay attention when you are watching movies . . .
  3. Or documentaries.  Some background event or character may grab your attention.
  4. Take notes when something throws you.  Sometimes I read something wrong and have to scroll back.  “There is no way that said…”  Other times I’ll click on a story or request a book only to discover that what I thought I had found is something else entirely.  The piece I wanted to read?  I jot that down.
  5. Doing tedious tasks.  Yes, you read that right.  Scrubbing the shower, weeding or watering the garden are highly inspirational because when I do things like this my mind wanders.  And when it wandered last night while hauling water to the new apple trees, I came away with an even better ending for my new picture book.

Ideas are everywhere.



Virtual Author Event: Books on Tap Live Series

Books on Tap Live

I don’t entirely understand it but it seems like every other story idea I have is either for a picture book or a graphic novel.  To a point, it makes sense because I am highly visual but I read a lot of novels – so many novels.  Ah, well.

Fortunately today I have an opportunity to learn from graphic novelist Svetlana Chmakova.  Chmakova is the author of Chasing Rainbows, a webcomic; Berrybrook Middle School, a graphic novel series for . . . can you guess it?  middle schoolers; graphic novels Dramacon and Nightschool as well as the manga adaptation of James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard. The idea behind this event is that Chmakova and other authors will give us the “story behind the story.”

At 4:00 pm Eastern today she will be the featured author of Books on Tap Live, a casual opportunity to mix, mingle and learn from authors. Sponsored by Yen Press, the event will stream live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.   Can’t make it?  Not to worry.  the event will be recorded and archived.

Have a question you’d like to ask?  Or maybe you’d like to enter to win one of five signed copies of The Weirn Books, Vol. 1.  Just click through here to take advantage of either of these opportunities.  And if you would like to learn more about Chmakova, click through here and visit her site.  If you enter to win one of the signed copies, you will also get an e-mail reminder because, as the organizers pointed out, times and dates are a bit wonky for most of us right now.

Hope to see some of you there.  I am really looking forward to some graphic novel inspiration.  This is also one of those times that I’m super happy my library has reopened.  No, you can’t go in but they have curbsite pick up.  So I can request several of Chmakova’s graphic novels.


10 Things to Include on Your Pitch Sheet

Last week, I took part in a Zoom talk with Emily Hall Schroen of Main Street Books in St. Charles.  Emily told everyone that when they approach her, or any other indie bookstore, they should first send a pitch sheet for their book.  Pitch sheet?  What’s a pitch sheet?

I had never heard this term before so I Googled it.  Sometimes called a sales sheet, this is the single page sheet that tells the book buyer all they need to know about your book.  I’ve seen them but simply thought of them as book fliers.  As so often happens when you Google something, it quickly got overwhelming.  Not that there was so much information, but the most informative source I found recommended hiring a graphic designer.  That seemed like overkill so I called Emily to get her opinion.  Her advice?  “Keep it neat.  Create a Word doc.”

Here are the ten things Emily reminded us to include.


Include both your title, and where applicable, subtitle just to make sure Emily and other book sellers buy your book and not Stephen Kings.

Publisher and Date

Who published your book and when?  Emily doesn’t host events only for brand new books but if your book is a bit older, you’ll have to come up with a hook for your event.  Think book annivesary, current events, or holidays.


Again, let’s make sure it is your book that people find.


A good looking cover really does help with sales so let’s hope that the publisher did a great job.

Summary/Cover copy

This isn’t the place for the synopsis you used to entice a pubilsher or agent. Instead think of the catalogue or cover copy used to hook potential buyers.


You want to tell the book seller where your book will be shelved.  Is it a picture book, a middle grade title, or nonfiction?

Age Range

And who is it for?


And how much will it cost?

Author photo

If you’ve got it, include it.  Emily wants to know who she’s talking to but if you don’t have a professional portrait don’t worry about it.


This isn’t a birth to present biography.  Tell a bit about yourself as the writer of this particular book.

Thank you to Emily for taking a few minutes out of her busy day to help out writers who may be interested in contacting her.  Pull this sheet together, get it to her or your local indie, and then make contact to discuss doing a virtual book event.