Jump Start Your Writing in April: The Poem a Day Challenge

Jump start your writing starting April 1st with Robert Lee Brewer’s PAD – the poem a day challenge.  I like to take part for several reasons.

  1. Something New.  I don’t know about you but I like to try new things.  Poetry is something I don’t write often which makes poetry writing in-and-of itself fairly unfamiliar for me.  But Brewer always pulls in types of poems that I have never heard of before.
  2. Not for Publication.  I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people who take part are poets so they may try to sell their work at a later date.  Me?  As far as I’m concerned these are writing exercises and not for publication so they are a no stress way to get the words flowing.
  3. Play Time.  Because of this, I can just play around.  I can write something serious, something satirical, or something highly irreverant. For me it is just a chance to have fun with my writing.
  4. Flexible.  The point of the challenge is to get you to write but if you want you can post your attempts each day on the Writer’s Digest Blog.  Post every once in a while or not at all.  It doesn’t really matter.  The only thing is that if you do post you have to be supportive and not hateful.  Unlike some places on the web, Brewer makes it clear that this will not be tolerated.

If you’ve got your kids home with your right now, this would be a fun thing for you to do together.  If you just need a way to get writing each morning, give this a try.  Brewer has a passion for poetry and it is contagious even if, like me, you are not a serious poet.  Let him inspired you!

Here is a link to the challenge guidelines.


We’ve Lost Beverly Cleary

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

Last week, children’s publishing lost an amazing writer. Beverly Clearly has died. She was 104 years old and the author of over 40 children’s books.

It is ironic. She wrote for children because, when she was a child, she wanted to read stories about real kids like herself. Real kids facing real situations. When she was a librarian, one particular boy came to the desk and demanded to know where the section was with characters who were like regular kids. This is why she wrote about Henry Huggins. Then she wrote about Ramona Quimby.

What’s so ironic about this? My favorite Beverly Cleary book is The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

Other authors wrote books about regular kids. I wanted fun books, fantastical books, books that carried me to exciting new worlds. I read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Stuart Little, The Borrowers, and The Littles. I also read every book I could find about horses – Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, everything by Marguerite Henry. When I was older, as much as I loved The Outsiders, I gravitated to Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron, and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books.

My point? We need all kinds of books. There are kids who want to read realistic stories about realistic kids. There are other kids who have had it up to here and beyond with reality. They want to read fantastical stories about talking animals, aliens, or dragons. There are kids who love genre fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries.

No book is going to appeal to every single reader. I’ve always suspected that Cleary got that. Whether she was writing about a regular boy, a normal girl, or a mouse zipping about on a motorcycle, she knew who her reader was likely to be.

It’s a talent and I don’t think anyone would argue that she was a very talented writer.


STEM in Science Fiction

Science has to be central to your science fiction.
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

Last week I read “How to Write a Good Science Fiction Novel: A 10-Point Plan” by Brandon Cornett. Not surprisingly, one of his pieces of advice was to make the science an important part of the story.

Why do I say “not surprisingly”? Because there are two ways that writers fail to make the science central to their science fiction.

Gadgets and Gizmos

In a lot of stories there are tons of gadgets and gizmos and things that go ping. There are a lot of science “window dressings.” And there’s nothing wrong things like that. Star Trek had the transporter and their communicators. They had nifty automated doors.

Science accessories are cool and easy to add but they cannot be the total of the science in your story. Not if you are writing science ficiton.

Science and Your Story Problem

In much of the science fiction that I’ve been reading, the science has nothing to do with the story problem or the solution to this problem. It is a story about adjusting to a new school. The school is all about science, but the story problem is not.

Or it is a buddy story. You have two alien characters who have to learn to be friends in spite of their differences. That sould make an awesome subplot but your science fiction story needs to revolve around science.

And this can be really hard to do.

In my story, my main characters need to rescue another group of kids from a space ship. This of course led to the all important question – why would someone need to abandon their space ship?

Running out of fuel is an option. But I’ve seen that same option used twice in Cowboy Beebop. There could be a radiation leak. But I’m 100% certain that somewhere in Star Trek someone got blistery and nasty from too much radiation.

Fortunately my husband is a NASA nerd and my son is an engineering student. I explained my problem to them. They quickly sorted through several problems that they’ve already seen in other stories. Then they listed two more – one of which occurred during a NASA mission and another that would happen if a circuit was overloaded.

In this science fiction story, I’m working to give science center stage.


3 Must Haves for a Picture Book Biography

Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf

If you watch conference sessions or read interviews with editors, you are going to hear two takes on the picture book biography. Either the market is saturated and they don’t want any more or the editor/agent loves them so bring them on! As always, you are going to have to look for someone who is interested in what you have written. It helps if your biography has these three things.

A Hook

When you write a biography, picture book or otherwise, you need to hook the interest of the reader. Sometimes the hook is that this a well-known person. This may not help with editors, who have all seen 4 dozen manuscripts on George Washington, but it does help with the adult buyer. ‘I know who that is!”

This week I read two picture book biographies that had the same marketing hook. Both were about STEM. Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf told about Potter’s research and pioneering efforts. She did things the male scientists at the time failed to do. Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell is about a Cherokee woman who helped send Americans into space. STEM is a great hook.

A Story

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell

Whether your biography is a birth to death story or a slice of life, it needs to focus on a story. Classified tells the story of how the Cherokee values Ross grew up with led to her career in math and science. Beatrix Potter, Scientist tells about the mushrooms Potter studied and how the rejection of her science led to turning her eye, and her paintbrush, to imaginary characters in a detailed realistic world.

The spreads in these books are not episodic. One leads to the next because of the story they tell.

A Bridge

Last but not least, your biography needs a bridge. There has to be a way for young readers to access the world of your story.

Beatrix Potter, Scientist opens with Potter as a young girl. Metcalf shows her fascination with the natural world, a fascination that many children share.

Classified shows Ross in the classroom as a student. Since the audience skews towards the older end of the picture book range, they will themselves be students. Sorell aslo shows Ross recruiting girls to study math and science. Female readers will think, “This could be me.”

When you are contemplating writing a picture book biography, look for these three elements. Does this person’s life have a hook? Can you create a story? And will you be able to build a bridge between the life of your subject and that of your young reader? All of these things will help your manuscript find a home.


3 Tips When Approaching Someone for an Interview

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

One of my writing students wants to do a series of biographies. So we’ve been discussing how to approach the people in question for interviews. Whether you want to write a biography of someone who is still alive or need to interview a park ranger about bobcats, here are three tips to help you score.

1st Do Your Research

Doing an interview is a way to supplement other research. It is not a short cut. Because of this, you need to first do all of the research that you can without doing the interview. This means that you should have read all the articles, sites and books before you ask for an interview.

It doesn’t matter if you want to interview a sports figure and are approaching her or her trainer. Do your research first.

It May Be Hard to Get a Yes

No one has to give you an interview. In fact, they have every right to say no. Can’t do your piece without this particular interview? Than you might not be writing it. Some people are just too busy to squeeze you in.

Others just won’t see why they should do it. They might see you as an intruder.

When I worked on my master’s thesis, I interviewed members of the local Chinese and Taiwanese community. Look at my picture. I am neither Chinese or Taiwanese. My thesis advisor helped me land my first interview and it was a tough one. The plan was for each interview to take 30 minutes. Maybe I would have to do two or even three with a single person. I met with this person for hours over the course of two months. But I did it. And this person got me in to see absolutely everyone else I needed to see.

First, I had to pay my dues.

Identify Yourself

When you are writing for children, let people know that this is what you are doing. I’ve had people hesitate to say yes right up until I identify myself as a children’s writer. I’m not trying to stir something up. I just want to teach children about geology . . . Akal Teke horses . . . white-tailed deer. When I let them know who I am and specifically what I am writing, doing an interview becomes more appealing.

An interview is a great way to gather information. Be prepared to show your interview subject that you respect them and aren’t using them as a shortcut. No one likes to feel used.


What’s an ARC?

An ARC of Greenwood Gone: Henry’s Story

Look what I got in the mail! An ARC of Greenwood Gone: Henry’s Story by Sioux Roslawski. This is one of the books being published by Editor-911 Books. This new publisher is the latest endeavor by WOW! Women on Writing buddy Margo Dill. It isn’t often that you know both the author and the editor/publisher.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term ARC, it stands for advanced reading copy. These previews are produced and distributed before a book goes to print. Publishers share them with people they hope will review the book and discuss it on social media. It is one way of creating buzz and spreading the word.
Publishers give them away.

So if you see an ARC for sale, don’t buy it.
Not only did the person get it for free, this isn’t the final book. The editor, author, and copy editor are still making final changes, fixing printing errors, and adding graphics, back matter and the finishing touches.

That said, if you see a publisher giving them away, sign up! It is a great way to scoop your fellow readers. Just make sure to review the book on Amazon, Goodreads and even post on Facebook. Remember an ARC is a marketing tool.

When you write your review, remember that this is not the final book.

  • Quotes might change slightly.
  • The cover might change. The one above is paperback. This is the case even with books that will be hardbound.
  • Any back matter like a glossary, maps and other material may still need to be added.

An ARC gives you the opportunity to spread the word and share with fellow book lovers. Tell them what you loved. Tell them what stuck with you. Tell them why you would recommend the book.

Me? I learned something just reading the back copy. I can’t wait to dig into this reading experience.


New Class: Learn to Pitch, Query, and Submit Your Work

Starting this summer (June 7, 2021), I will be teaching a new WOW! Women on Writing Class – Learn to Pitch, Query, and Submit Your Work. So many writers work to perfect their craft and then hesitate to send out their work. Why? Because it is so intimidating! We often feel like this is our one and only chance to make a good impression. Fail and all is lost.

Or so we think. Getting our work in front of publishing professionals and/or potential readers is a must. But it isn’t a highwire act. It is business correspondence. Students who take this course will learn to:

  • Find markets that are a good fit for their work. A big part of this is recognizing that some markets may be a better fit for your publishing goals than others.
  • Pitch ideas using both elevator pitches and Twitter pitches.
  • Write a one-page query letter. Often this is done to introduce an editor or agent to a particular book. But nonfiction articles are often pitched unwritten through query letters.
  • Bounce back from rejection. I’d love to say that you are never going to face a rejection letter but that just would not be true. Rejections are a part of the writing process thus so it learning to deal with the ones that hit us hard.

I am still pulling together my course material. What do you think I should make sure my students know? My other WOW! Women on Writing Classes are Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (click through here) and Writing Nonficiton for Children and Young Adults (click through here). You can sign up for them at any time. They run starting near the beginning of each month.

Don’t forget to let me know what I should include in my new course!


4 Reasons to Register for Camp NaNoWriMo

Just like NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo is a month long challenge. But I have to admit. I like it even better than NaNoWriMo. Why? It offers a bit more flexibility. No, you don’t get to pick when it starts and when it ends, but you do get to set your own goal. The best thing?

You Quit Procrastinating

Admit it. We’ve all got that goal that we set for 2021 that we haven’t even started. Camp NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to motivate yourself. I generally hesitate to register for NaNoWriMo. If I want to draft a young middle grade novel, it seems ridiculous to sign up for a 50,000 word challenge when I only need to write 20,000 words. But it does get me off my fanny. So does Camp.


But because it if flexible I am even more likely to sign up. You can set a goal of 10,000 words and finish your novel. You can set a goal of 20,000 words and write an entire early middle grade novel. You can set a goal of 16,000 words and write a series of essays. Whatever. And I have to admit that I like that flexibility.


Another great thing about this is that you publicly state your goal. That creates accountability which many of us need to keep writing until they end. Otherwise a shiny new idea but catch our eye and pull us away from a project that has gotten hard. And, let’s face it, writing is tough! Something that makes it a bit easier?


Whether it is your critique group, your accountability group or the people you connect with through NaNoWriMo, a community is essential. Your fellow writers get how tricky it all is. They will encourage you. And if you publicly mention a problem you may find that someone else has a solution that will work for you as well.

If Camp NaNoWriMo sounds like something you want to do, you can find out more about it here. Be sure to connect with me (Nonfiction Writer).


Review of Save the Cat Cracking the Beat Sheet

Filming Cracking the Beat Sheet

Today’s it is my turn to blog about the new offerings at Save the Cat. As part of their blog tour, I was able to take the new class Cracking the Beat Sheet. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, he broke movies down into 15 beats. Each beat is an event, plot point or scene that is essential to a well-paced movie. Admittedly I had tried it before but I’m not much of a plotter. I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Thank goodness for this class because now I get it.

15 Beats

One of the first things the class did was explain all of the beats. We got insight on what they are, why they matter and how they work together. I’d read the book but the videos really helped bring this home to me. I was ready to start crafting my beats. But, no. You don’t just run through them from beginning to end. First you plan …

6 Pillar Beats

This step was vital. Instead of planning your beats from 1 (opening scene) to 15 (final scene), you first plan the 6 Pillar Beats. They are the Opening, the Catalyst, Break into 2, the Midpoint, Break into 3, and the Final Image. Not only was it explained why these 6 have to be strong before you work through the remaining beats, the video explained AGAIN how they relate to each other. Only then do you fill in the remaining beats.

I’d managed to make it this far before. My beats weren’t as strong but I’d pulled beats together. Then I would start writing. But the class explained that NO, I still had more work to do.

40 Scenes

The 9 scenes in Act 1

Before you start writing, you need to craft your forty scenes. Sound too fixed? Don’t panic. You can use as few as 36. I have only plotted out Act 1, nine scenes. But I can tell you that I am definitely going to plan out the rest of my scenes before I start writing.

Why? Because following this class has already improved my story. My ending is much better than the ending I had in mind. There is more conflict throughout my story.

And I’ve always started writing before coming up with my individual scenes. That works okay in the beginning but in the middle where the beats are broader? My fiction always felt loose and unstructured. That isn’t always a bad thing but in my stories it was.

You should sign up for this class if you

  • Are struggling to outline your story.
  • Are lost and adrift in the middle.
  • Feel like your story lacks impact.

Put the steps in this class to work for you and you will see your fiction change and grow.


4 Reasons to Read Beyond What You Write

Reading this and reading that.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I am assuming that all of the writers who read my blog are more than writers. I assume that you are also readers. Most writers read the types of books they write. If they are penning picture books, they read picture books. If they are working on nonfiction, they read nonfiction. But you should read beyond what you write and here is why.

Idea Are Everywhere

You never know where you are going to come across your next best idea. I read blogs. I read articles online. I read print magazines. And I read and listen to books of almost every kind. I say almost because when it comes to adult nonfiction, memoir and romance, I read some but I am super picky.

The first way that reading informs my writing is that I’m always coming away from my reading with new ideas. While reading picture books over the last month, I sketched down ideas about sacred land, Eleanor Roosevelt and a book about picky eaters.

Building Empathy

Studies have shown that reading about people who are different than us helps us to build empathy. This will shape how you think which in turn will shape the stories that you write. Editors are always on the lookout for authors who can write broadly. The instructions that came with my latest contract actually said “don’t take a side.” This is going to be fun!

Inform Your Writing

What you read informs your writing. Reading poetry and picture books teaches you to play with words. This is something that both my critique group and my editors have commented on in my work. Even when I write for teens, I have fun with language.

Reading mysteries are a great way to study pacing and plot reveals. Science fiction and historical fiction show you how to world build and create bridges between the world of your reader and the world of your story.

Prep You for Tomorrow

What you read today can also inform what you write in the future. For years, the majority of my work has been nonfiction. In spite of this, I continued to read fiction and why not? I love fiction! But the past two years I’ve also been writing fiction including my latest, a middle grade science fiction novel. My first scene sets an ominous tone and I use small details to create a setting that is futuristic and creepy. I learned to do this reading fiction although I wasn’t writing fiction at the time.

Read. Read what you write. Read what you want to write. Read everything that intrigues you. One way or another it will inform what you write.