One Writer’s Journey

June 14, 2019

Proofing: Four Tips to Help You Catch Those Errors

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:04 am
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A friend of mine just got a rejection letter.  Yes, it bothered her but what was more upsetting was opening her essay to find a wide variety of errors she hadn’t seen before.  How can you avoid this in your own work?  Here are three tips.

Cultivate Absence.  It is easier to spot errors when you aren’t overly familiar with a piece.  That’s not so easy to achieve when it is your writing.  One way to give yourself an edge is to put your work aside for a week or a month if not longer.  Unfortunately, deadlines sometime make this impossible.  Not to worry.  There are other ways.

Work on Paper.  A lot of people really strive for that paperless office.  That’s fine but most people edit much better on paper.  I print my work out and then set myself up in the dining room with a cup of coffee and my rewrite candle.  Yes, I have a rewrite candle. Don’t judge.  I light it every time I need to work on a rewrite and once I smell the aroma of licorice (I said, quit judging!) I get right to work.

Change the Font.  One of the reasons that we miss errors is because our eyes are skimming over the text.  Change this by changing the font.  I’m not suggesting that you go with Comic Sans or Wingding or anything like that.  And, personally, I need a serif font just because they are easier for me to read.  But instead of Times Roman, I can use Cambria or Century. They are just different enough that they help me see my work differently.

Listening Ears.  Last but not least, read your work out loud.  To do this, I use the Word add-on Speak.  It reads selected text in a robotic voice.  Annoying? Yes.  But I can hear errors that I don’t seem to see.  Many people can just read their work aloud. When I try that, it works for a few paragraphs and then I resort to reading in my head.

Do any of you have other techniques that you use to help you spot errors in your work?


June 13, 2019

Short and Sweet: Finding Time to Write in the Summer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:08 am
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At this point in my writing life, I am the mom of a 20 year-old lifeguard.  He’s at home but he’s also working at two pools and taking a Calc 2.  Class just started this week so it remains to be seen just how often I will see him.  That said, I do remember trying to fit writing in around a 3rd grader home for the summer.  Here are five tips to help you keep your writing alive during the summer.

  1.  Don’t give up.  Are you a writer?  If the answer to that question is yes, you are going to want to fit in at least some writing.  If you are going to fit it in, you actually need to try thus my encouragement not to give up.
  2. Be realistic.  Now that you’ve decided to find time to write, you are going to want to be realistic.  Fitting in an hour a day may be possible if you are the mother of a high schooler or a swimmer in a summer swim league.  If you are the mom of an active grade schooler, an hour a day may be just a touch unrealistic unless you can work it in 20 minutes at a time.
  3. Small amounts add up.  Whether we are talking trying to write a page a day or 20 minutes a day, small amounts will add up.
  4. Bite sized writing.  Twenty minutes a day will add up but depending on your mind set you might also want to write something bite sized.  Crafts, activities, poems, and games aren’t easy but they are short.  Try your hand at some bite sized writing.
  5. Summer vacation is a wonderful thing.  Last but not least, don’t forget what a wonderful thing summer vacation can be.  Take your kids to the movies.  Go to the park and throw a Frisbee.  Swim.  Fish.  Hike.  Take the time to have summer and use it as inspiration in your writing.

When you don’t have as much time to write, don’t be afraid to change things up so that you can still fit writing into your day!



June 12, 2019

How to Critique A Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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In addition to critiquing manuscripts for my students, I am a member of a critique group and an accountability group.  Technically, the accountability group is supposed to hold members accountable for their goals.  But, let’s be honest, we also critique.  How can we not?  Once you’ve heard about the manuscript your writing friend is working on, you want to read it.

Something I’ve learned through the years is that experienced writers are generally, but not always, the best at critique.  Maybe it is because we know what we need in a critique.  Maybe it is because we know what other writers need.

Not sure your critiques are as good as they could be?  Here are some tips.

Know what you are critiquing.  Why?  Because picture books, graphic novels and chapter books all function differently.  You have to know what you are reading to know if it works.

If at all possible, read the manuscript through without marking on it at all.  Then read it again.  The second time through you know where the manuscript is going.  This will keep you from writing things like “I need to know” or “it would be helpful if,” only to find this desire fulfilled in the next line.  In addition, knowing where a story ends can also help you know if the build up works.

Start with what you like.  I know.  Writers need to be tough to make it in this industry.  That’s good that you know that.  But you should also know that people receive criticism better if they know there is something about their story that you like.  Compliment their character before pointing out that their setting feels flat.  Point out the humor before commenting that the villain in the mystery is far too obvious.

Always say something.  This doesn’t mean that you should go on and on about something trivial but it is really annoying for someone who has given you a careful critique to get back . . . nothing.  Not sure what to say?  Then point out what you like and give an impression or two.  Not everyone is going to connect with every single story.  That’s just how it is.  But even when someone workshops a toddler picture book (the bane of my existence when it comes time to critique), I will find something to say.  I really liked X, did you mean to give the impression that Y?

Giving a solid critique isn’t easy but it is a skill worth acquiring.  After all, you want to receive sound critiques and learning what to look for in the writing of others will help you understand what they see in your writing.


June 11, 2019

Photos and Photo Research

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:15 am
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As a nonfiction author, I like to use photos in my research.  I look up photos to discover what a Mayan calendar looks like, what Mark Twain looked like at various points in his life, and what’s with the iridescent akhal teke coat described by horse lovers?

That said, when looking up any of these things, you should proceed with caution.  Aztec calendars are labeled as Mayan.  Actors who played Mark Twain are tagged as Mark Twain himself.  And horse breeds?  They get mislabeled. too.  Trying to make sure you have an accurately labeled image is tricky, but it isn’t your only potential problem.

I’m also finishing up an online MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) class on Coursera, Seeing through Photographs.  I took this class expecting to learn about the art of photography.  What I got instead was also awesome – a class on visual literacy and the many ways that photographs can fool the eye.

I wouldn’t even say that the photographers necessarily do it intentionally.  Remember these are photos as art.  Just as a painter goes for certain effects in their work, so does a photographer.  But this can mean choosing to photograph at this specific angle to cut something out of the background.  It can also mean cropping photos.  Then there is the length of time a photo is exposed, making it lighter or darker than the scene was in reality.  Developing can also alter the apparent light level as well as contrast.

And none of this even touches on whether or not certain elements of the photo were staged.

People expect light to be altered, backgrounds chosen, and staging in studio photos.  But these things are also a part of non-studio photography.  At this point, I’m a little hesitant to call it “real world” photography!

None of this is to say that photos can’t be important in your research.  But proceed with caution and understanding.  A photo is every bit as calculated as the piece of writing it illustrates.


June 10, 2019

What Kids Want

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:47 am
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Yesterday we were at a high school graduation party for a family friend.  Mike is outgoing in the extreme.  His brother Ben is the opposite. I didn’t actually see him until almost everyone had left and most of us who remained were sitting in the backyard.  He came out into the kitchen to forage.  Then he sat in the adjoining family room reading.  His book?  A Joseph Conrad collection.  And this wasn’t a book he had borrowed from a nearby bookshelf.  This one came to the party with him.

So who is the typical teen?  Does one of them have to be typical?  In all truth, I don’t think that they are.

But I think they also serve to remind us that we need to be really careful when we talk about what teen boys are like.  Or teen girls.

When he was a teenager, Tupac Shakur studied ballet and Shakespeare.  Yes, I’m talking about the rapper.  But doesn’t that make him more three-dimensional?

One of the boys my son swam with also played hockey.  But then, so did his four sisters.   He also worked for a landscaping company and catered.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this but I think that the young people who make up our audience are often more varied than we realize.  Among my son’s friends are boys who cook, skate, and are serving in the military. There are also girl soldiers, girls who hunt and dress out their own game, and animate.

Are our characters just as varied?  Sometimes I’m not sure we manage to pull it off.  Or, when we do, we think of these characters as quirky and out of the ordinary.

I’m sure there are probably kids out there who are “typical” but those are not the kids who cross my threshold.  Of course, that may say just as much about me as it does about what is typical.

Just a little something I’ve been noodling over.


June 7, 2019

False Apology Poem

I am not a poet.  Every now and again I read poetry especially the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye.  Then there are the days I attempt poetry.  One of my favorite forms is the false apology poem. Have you ever done something and felt compelled to apologize although you didn’t mean it?  That’s basically the point of a False Apology poem.

False apology poems are inspired by the poem that William Carlos Williams penned after eating the plums his wife was saving for breakfast.


This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

The rules are simple — you have to apologize for something and not really mean it.  One way to think of this poem is to think insincerity although that doesn’t work for me.  I tend not to apologize if I don’t mean it.  I don’t consider “I’m sorry you’re upset” an apology.

But sarcasm?  I ooze sarcasm on a daily basis.  Is is my first language.  Yes, sarcasm can be mean and Williams’ poem does not feel mean.  But when I write this type of poem, it has to sound a bit mean to work.

Darwin Dilemma

I’m sorry my belief in science
gives offence. On the other hand,
It must be hard to believe so much
with no basis in fact.

The monkey from which I descend?
He’d be cute and smart and
probably fling poo.
At you?
It happens.  My apologies.

Then again
Darwin never claimed
we descended from monkeys.
You should read his work.
But first, you’ll have to learn
the science.

Not great but then I never claimed poetry as a talent!


June 6, 2019

Story Board: Use This Tool to Write Your Next Picture Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:42 am
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Yesterday my critique group ended up discussing story boards. A story board is an illustrators’ tool that allows you to plan out a picture book spread by spread.  Because you see all of the spreads at once, it is a great big picture tool.

How do you use it if you aren’t an illustrator?  Some writers make quick sketches.  I jot down a few words or a sentence on a Post-it note.

I like to use a story board to see if I have enough “story” for an entire picture book.   If I can’t come up with 14 2-page spreads, my idea may not work in picture book format.

If you want to print out  a story board worksheet, you can download one here.  I find this single page a little too tight.  I also hate writing on the page and then erasing things as I shift bits and pieces of the story.

Another way to do it is to use the template directly on your computer.  Since you can only fit about 6 spreads on most screens, this keeps me from seeing the whole thing at once.  Yeah, I know.  I’m picky.

So what I did was make my own story board (see above).  It came into the house as the piece of cardboard in a poster frame.  I enlarged the story board template and marked off the pages I need to keep open.   I write a few words on a Post-it note to represent each spread.  Once I begin placing them on the story board, I can easily rearrange and shift various parts of the story.

Once I have everything worked out on the board, I rough out the story. Because I’ve worked out many of the bugs on the story board, I can usually draft a picture book in an hour or two.  Do not fuss at me!  That’s a rough draft.  The language isn’t picture book language.  The characters still need work and everything else. That’s just a super messy rough draft. But it comes together as quick as it does because I’ve already taken a hard look at the big picture.

Try it out when you write your next picture book and see if it helps.


June 5, 2019

YouTube: The Quest to Make a Video

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:25 am
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Making a video for Youtube.  How complicated could it be?  Oh, it is to laugh.

We just got a new movie camera.  Yes, we can record short videos on our digital camera but we wanted to be able to record 15 minutes plus.  Not that I am in any danger of needing 10 minutes let alone 15, but we wanted a camera that would give us options.  Everyone in the house wants it for a different reason but my husband did the research and picked out a really good camera.

As is so often the case, I am the last one to get my hands on the technology.  First I couldn’t get it to record.  I found the twenty year old and made him come help.  “You just push this button, Mom.  Wait.  Why isn’t it coming on?  Will you step back so it isn’t caught in your whatever.”  Self check out at the library sometimes gets strange if I stand too close.  and apparently the camera works on the same frequency.  Whatever.  It finally decided that it would record for me.

Then I accidentally turned on the light.  And how do you play the recording back? Once I figured that out I realized that somehow I hadn’t recorded any sound.  The microphone has a seperate on switch.  I’m sure in someone’s world that makes sense but really?

Once again, I hit record.  Sadly it was trash day and the windows were open.  Then the senior cat noticed I wasn’t in my office.  She had to search for me, calling throughout the house.  Mwow!

Just as I finished a hopefully passable recording, my son stepped into the room.  “Remember, your first couple of videos will be really bad.  You sound ridiculous.”

The glare must have been warning enough but he still started laughing.  “Mom, we all sound ridiculous when we start.  You’ll get better.”

Editing is an important step but that meant I had to look at myself on camera.  First, my computer tried to reformat the memory card.  Once I won that argument, I hit play.  Here are the things that I learned.

  • Make sure the top of your head is in the shot.
  • Do not chew gum even if your mouth keeps going dry.
  • I can say UM 592 times throughout a 10 word sentence.
  • I want to find a way to insert slides so that I am not holding the book up in front of my face.
  • I was going to say that I don’t want to look at notes because then you have an amazing video of me looking down.  But maybe that’s when I should insert those slides.

Except for the very top of my head not being in the video, this really wasn’t too bad.  That said, I will record one more time before I edit the video.  I want to try a different background which may simply mean cleaning off my dining room table.



June 4, 2019

Working on a New Project: When Do You Share?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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I’ve got this idea. (Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay)

Some writers I know will bounce a brand new idea off the members of their critique group.  Some do this because they are so excited they need to share.  Others want to gage the group’s reaction to the idea.  That way they can message it as needed based on the group response.

Other people keep their work to themselves.  I know writers who won’t share anything about a project until they have completed a draft. One writer explained to me that she handles it like this because once she shares it, the energy dissipates.  She has to keep it private until she has completed a solid draft.

Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.  I will share a rough draft with my critique group to see where the plot works and where it doesn’t.  This is with fiction – not my strong suit.

But before I have a rough draft, I will sometimes bounce my ideas off my husband.  I do this most often when I know something isn’t working.  I did this the other night, telling him about the rebus I had roughed out that day.  “It needs a twist ending and I’m just not sure how to make that work.  Right now she is riding the train and she sees . . .”

When I trail off, my husband knows that something just caught at my “writer brain,” which may or may not have anything to do with my right brain.  In this case, I knew what my character would see and what I needed to imply as well as what the twist would be.  While the central concept would remain the same, the details would all have to go.  This wasn’t a “move some commas” rewrite.  This was a complete revisioning.

As I ran down the hall to leave myself a note on my desk, my husband called out behind me.  “Glad I could help!”  Yeah, he’s pretty used to the fact that I sometimes have to talk about a problem to work my way through it.


June 3, 2019

Cover Reveal

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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I’ve been wondering what the cover for Earning, Saving and Investing would look like so I was pretty excited when I found it on Amazon.  This book is coming out this fall from Abdo Publishing.

So not what I was expecting in terms of the cover.  What was I expecting?  Pfft.  I don’t know.  Let’s just say that I’m really glad that designing the cover is not my job.  Me?  I just do the writing.

And that in itself was a challenge for this book.  There are chapters on ways that young readers can earn money, steps they should take to save it, and also information on investing.  I was good to go for the first two topics but the third?  Let’s just say that I learned a lot.  I knew the broad strokes but not the finer details.

This book was different from the others I’ve written for Abdo in that each chapter ended with something that would actively engage the reader.  It might be a worksheet, a quiz or a flow chart activity.   I tried to just write these sections but discovered that I had to design them as well.  No, that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring in their own designers to actually make things look good. But it does mean that layout and titles in the appropriate places were essential to make things understandable to my editor first, then the designer and last of all the reader.

Trying to find charts and diagrams that the designer could reference was all but impossible.  I could find the raw data but not a graphic of the same.  Fortunately my husband teaches Excel classes – Excel the amazing program that can crunch numbers and generate charts.

This book was definitely a challenge.  But then so is earning, saving and investing.


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