One Writer’s Journey

August 16, 2019

Word Count: How Much Can You Write Per Day?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:29 am
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Recently, one of my students contacted me.  She was going to be late handing something in because she had thought she could research and write 1000 words/day.  Reality was closer to 500. She then asked my advice about how she could write faster.

The number of words you can write per day is going to vary greatly depending on the project and how much time you have to write.

When I work on my mystery, I generally pull anywhere from 200 to 600 words.  Every now and then I manage almost 1000 but that is the rare day.  For me, fiction is a slow slog.

When I work on one of my nonfiction titles for tween and teen readers, I can generally write from 1000 to 1,200 words per day.  These are the books written at a 7.5 to 8.5 reading level.  I think I can write this much because this reading level is my sweet spot.

When I work on a nonfiction title written for a 3.0 to 4.0 reading level, I’m doing good to write 500 words a day.  For me, writing at a lower reading level means I have to go much slower and focus on my word choice, sentence length and sentence structure.

Drafting a picture book?  That is usually a day long project and means about 500 words in a day.

A lot of knowing how much you can write in a day will depend on three things –

If you are writing for young readers, you will need to know the typical reading level of what you write.  I’ve done enough writing at 7.5 to 8.5 that I can fall into it with no effort.

You have to have a plan.  To write fast, you have to know what is coming up next.  If you are figuring things out as you go, you will write slower.  Is that bad?  Not at all. But you have to know which way you write.

Last but not least, you need to know your peak time of day to write.  I can write at just about any time of day.  I am at my best from morning through mid-afternoon.  Then I need to move.

There is no right or wrong daily word count.  You simply need to acknowledge how you work.


August 15, 2019

Research On-Line: Help Make It Possible

One of the great things about writing in the digital age is the vast amount of research information we can find online.  One of the best sources of information is the Library of Congress through which you can access a variety of photographs, posters, post cards, letters, diaries and more.  The library is constantly adding to the information that is available.  Recently documents on the women’s suffrage movement were added.

These additions are made possible, in part, by interested people who transcribe, tag and proof a range of materials.  The program is currently being beta tested and is called By the People. I haven’t had time to take part in this program yet but it is on my to-do list.  In fact, I may do that instead of taking another online course.

Several campaigns are ongoing and volunteers get to choose on which one they work.  Current possibilities include:

  • Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote.
  • Civil War
  • Susan B. Anthony Papers
  • Mary Church Terrell: Advocate for African Americans and Women
  • Walt Whitman at 200
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers
  • Carrie Chapman Catt Papers
  • Anna E. Dickinson Papers
  • Civil War Soldiers: “Disabled but not disheartened”
  • Clara Barton: “Angel of the Battlefield”
  • Letters to Lincoln

One campaign, Branch Rickey: Changing the Game, has already been completed.

Working with historic documents has always been a source of inspiration and ideas so this project really appeals to me.  Which campaign would I choose?  That’s a good question.  Each has an appeal to me for different reasons.  I loved reading about Clara Barton when I was in grade school, but I’ve done some reading on Anna E. Dickinson too.  I guess I beter make up my mind!

To find out more about the By the People project, click through here.  Think about all of the amazing stories you can help unlock.


August 14, 2019

Building A Career: More Effort than Luck

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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The other day, one of my girlfriends commented on Facebook that someone had just been gushing about how lucky she is.  “It wasn’t luck.  I worked my butt off!”  If she hadn’t been in Arizona with me in Missouri, Jane would have gotten a big hug.  That’s how I feel when another writer comments about the lucky breaks I’ve obviously had in my career.

I’m not going to deny it. I’ve had some really good luck but my 600+ sales are more a product of hard work and saying yes than they are of luck.

When a fellow writer came to my critique group and said, “I just bought Young Equestrian Magazine,” anyone at the meeting could have said yes.  She could easily have had 5 or more writers in her stable.  Two of us gave it a try.  Was I an equestrian?  Heck, no!  I could ride as in I know which direction to face, have never fallen off and know the basic commands, but by no stretch of the imagination am I an equestrian.  I love horses and I love stories about horses.  Fortunately I also know how to research.

When an educational publisher put a notice out through the SCBWI regional advisors, I passed it on to my members.  I also sent in my application.  That’s right.  I’ve done test writing, experiments, activities and more although I’m not a teacher.  I went to my teaching friends for help on some things but again I said YES and looked for a way.

I’m not saying that you should do a type of writing that you really do not want to do.  Or something that goes against your principals.  For example, I no longer take any test writing assignments.  But you need to be willing to stretch yourself.  Again, that doesn’t mean that everything you try is something that you will want to do again.

But if you don’t say YES, the luck is going to go to someone else.


August 13, 2019

David Harrison: Happy 50th Anniversary

“Don’t you just hate it when one of your friends makes a sale?  Don’t you get jealous?”

I was a fairly new writer when someone asked me this.  I had some sales, no books, but I was still surprised.  Jealous?  No, why?  Although when my writing friend David Harrison announced he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first book, it came close.  Isn’t that just the coolest thing?

In 1969, The Boy with the Drum was published as a Little Golden Book. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom or grandmother and flipping through all the Little Golden Books on the spinner.  They rarely said yes but every now and again I got to come home with a new treasure.

Earlier this year, book #96 for David came out.  I reviewed And the Bullfrogs Sing here.  Ninety-six books!  Okay, maybe I’m just a little jealous, but I can deal with it.  If you aren’t familiar with David’s books, be sure to check them out.  And the Bullfrog Sings combines his talents for teaching science and writing in rhyme.  David is a noted children’s poet and if poetry is your thing you might want to read Now You See Them, Now You Don’ta book of poems about how animals hide.

I’ve known David since I was a new writer and he has always been encouraging although I think I made him cringe when I called myself the anti-poet.  To say that my education in poetry was lacking is an understatement and David took it upon himself to help me find poetry to read.  It may be David’s fault that I’ve had one rhyme, I still hesitate to call it a poem, accepted for publication.

I’d encourage you to get to know David and his work. For a full list of his books, be sure to visit this page on his web site. You can read more about his first sale on his blog.


August 12, 2019

Lee Bennett Hopkins: RIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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Sadness.  Last week, poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins passed away.

I can’t even tell you how many poems he published or how many anthologies he produced.  What I can tell you is that he is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most productive anthologist of poetry for children.

Hopkins created his first anthology because he was a teacher.  When Langston Hughes, died in 1967, Lee Bennett Hopkins wanted to share Hughes writing with his students. “I was introducing language arts curricula into classroom programs, with an emphasis on poetry, and I realized when Hughes died that I could not share with students his only book for children, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, published in 1932, due to the art’s stereotypical depiction of blacks.”

Hopkins settled on a solution.  He would create a new anthology and thus Don’t You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hughes was published by Knopf in 1969.

Poet and anthologist, our library has twenty-six of his books.  Although I periodically read poetry, I can’t say that I always have his books on my library shelf.  Yet, when I got the news that he had died, I had just picked School People up from the library.

While it is sad that he is no longer with us, what a blessing that he was creating both poetry and anthologies for so many years.  Why not celebrate his work by checking out one of his books this week?  World Make Way is on my hold list.  And I realize that I’ve never read Manger.  Do I request it now or wait until Christmas when it is seasonally appropriate?

If you have a favorite poem or collection by Hopkins, share it below.


August 9, 2019

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am

I’m always a little envious of authors who successfully break the fourth wall.  Not that I’ve ever tried to do it, but I obviously find it tempting.

The fourth wall is the barrier between the movie or book and the audience. When a movie character, such as Deadpool or Ferris Bueller, speaks to the audience, the fourth wall has been broken. More of a classics fan?  Mel Brooks and Monty Python both famously break the fourth wall.  And, yes, I consider Monty Python classic. When the narrator addresses the reader in a picture book, the fourth wall has, once again, come down.

One of the newest picture books to do this is There’s a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, and it starts on page one.

“Oh, look! There’s an egg in your book! It looks ready to hatch.  Whatever you do, don’t turn the page….”

Young readers are led through turning pages, blowing on the pages and flapping the book like dragon’s wings.  Judging by the bent pages and sticky finger prints on the back cover ::shudder::, these instructions are undertaken with enthusiasm.

Other ways to break the fourth wall include the narrator in A Series of Unfortunate Events speaking to the reader, readers being told to push buttons or shout out various commands.  Anything that speaks directly to the reader and brings them into the story breaks the fourth wall.

Hmm.  I’m wondering if pop-up books are thought to break this wall since the reader engages in the act of moving whatever tab, slider, etc. needs to be moved.

Attempting to break the fourth wall is a bit chancy.  When done well, it is hilarious.  When done poorly, it is painfully awkward, functioning only to pull the reader out of the story or the audience out of the film or play.

Still, it is really tempting to give it a try.


August 8, 2019

Illustration Notes and When Not to Make Notes

In her post, Tara shows how she used notes in Your First Day of Circus School.

Last night my critique group met.  We have two newish writers who are crafting their first picture books.  We also have a former writer for Sesame Street who is working on a picture book.  Her manuscript always has an illustration note or two so it is really hard for the newer writers to understand when to leave things to the illustrator.

A lot of fairly new writers want to use notes to tell the illustrator that the character is blonde.  She is wearing a red dress.  Her shoes are blue Converse high tops.  Chances are that none of that is essential to the story and not only could be left out but should be left out of both the text and also any possible illustration notes.  The illustrator needs room to play.

Fortunately, Tara Lazar wrote a blog post about just this topic.  To drive her point home, she explains that instead of calling them illustration notes, we should call them “action notes.”

Here is how an action note would work.  Your text reads:

Mom says, “Don’t forget to eat your Brussel sprouts.”

I say, “Sure thing.”

That makes it sound like your point-of-view character is complying.  It not, you need a note to show that this is not the case.  Then your text would read:

Mom says, “Don’t forget to eat your Brussel sprouts.”

I say, “Sure thing.”

[Rolls Brussel sprouts under refrigerator.]

Any time your character’s actions contradict the text, you can include a brief note.  But keep it brief.   You wouldn’t have to include above that the dog is trying to bury a sprout or that Dad is looking for someplace to stash his.  You still need to leave the illustrator space to operate.

When you read Tara’s post, you will also note that she includes non-action notes when the illustration needs to contradict the text or expand on it in a very specific way.  If you write about the character’s dog and the dog’s name is Chihuahua but it is a mastiff, include a note.

“After dinner, Chihuahua curls up on Dad’s lap.” [Chihuahua is a mastiff.]

It takes practice to learn when to include an illustration note.  My advice?  When it doubt, delete it.  If the story makes sense without it, leave it out.


August 7, 2019

Anthropomorphized Animals: Fiction or Nonfiction?

Recently I read a Sleeping Bear Press picture book called A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story by Suzanne Lewis.  In this book, Lewis tells the story of the Audubon facility in New Orleans and what the animals there went through after the hurricane.

As the facility heats up, Patience’s temper grows noticeably short. It is especially notable because Patience is the point of view character.  The reader knows what the bird thinks and feels, and Lewis makes it work.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I read this book.  I looked at the spine and the call number clearly showed that it was nonfiction.  Personally, I don’t consider it nonfiction when the author ascribes human emotions to animals.  We can’t, after all, interview them and know what they are thinking or feeling.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, this is called anthropomorphism.  A talking cookie that runs away from pursuers has been anthropomorphized because it is acting like a person.  Nonfiction? I don’t think anyone would say yes.

And yet some publishers, such as Sleeping Bear, consider it okay, at least to a point, when writing about animals.  This is why it is so important to read books published by your target market.  I remember when someone asked a Charlesbridge editor if it was okay to anthropomorphize an animal character when writing a creative nonfiction picture book.  “Absolutely not.”

The fact of the matter is that you have to know your market.  It is worth noting that while Patience worried and was happy, just like a person, she did not talk or behave in other human ways.

I can’t emphasize this enough.  If you want to know what your target publisher finds acceptable, read their books. Your story shouldn’t duplicate what they have already published but it should fit well into their collection.



August 6, 2019

News for Fans of F+W Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
As someone who is a fan of many of the F&W titles, especially those that pertain to writing, I was thrilled to see that Penguin Random House purchased F+W Books book-publishing assets.  These assets were sold as part of F+W Media’s bankruptcy proceeding.
In addition to the Writer’s Market books, F+W Books focuses on illustrated nonfiction books in art instruction, crafts, writing, genealogy, antiques and collectibles, and woodworking. These assets include a backlist of 2,000 titles.

In the July 23, 2019 ShelfAwareness Pro, Allison Dobson, president of Penguin Publishing Group, is quoted as saying: “The nonfiction categories encompassed by the F+W list will expand and complement PPG’s already very strong set of imprints and lists, and we are delighted to welcome the F+W authors into our Penguin family.”

I have to admit that I wanted to pick up some of the books, just to make sure I could still get them.  But I delayed

I’d rather have to search for them used than buy them new and have the authors not get their royalties.  The allocation of assets during bankruptcy can be both complex and strange.  A friend of mine found this out when the publisher sold out her title but only pid her because she took them to court.  NOTE:  This was not F&W.  But it did cause me to worry that I would buy something without the author getting paid.

Fortunately, Deborah Halverson, author of the F+W title Writing New Adult Fiction, just posted that she has already heard from Penguin. They are already processing royalty payments so there is no lag there for authors.  They will continue to be paid in a timely manner.

So if you have been hesitating to order a particular F+W title, treat yourself to a new book and an author to their anticipated royalty.



August 5, 2019

Free Class: Self-Editing for Writers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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I had a different post planned for today but I wanted to get the news about this class out as soon as possible.  Joan Dempsey is offering a free course, Self-Editing for Writers.  Yes, there is a paid Master Class, but sign up for this class.

You will learn about:

  • Lesson 1:  Whether you should complete a draft before you rewrite or rewrite as you go.
  • Lesson 2: Use listening as a tool in your rewriting toolbox.
  • Lesson 3: Several different approaches to self-editing.
  • Lesson 4: How to create a strong opening that doesn’t get bogged down in backstory.
  • Lesson 5: How to know the difference between action (good) and activity (not so good).

I am currently on Lesson 4 and if I hadn’t already developed a rewrite tool kit, I would sign up for the master class.  That said, this is definitely giving me some things to think about.

My own techniques are based on Darcy Pattison’s book and workshop, Novel Metamorphosis.  I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer.  Darcy’s techniques for rewriting are highly methodical, or, in other words, exactly what I need to turn my loosy goosy text into a finished manuscript.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Joan Dempsey, her first novel, This is How It Begins, came out in October 2017.  As described on the book jacket:

“In 2009, eighty-five-year-old art professor Ludka Zeilonka gets drawn into a political firestorm when her grandson, Tommy, is among a group of gay Massachusetts teachers fired for allegedly silencing Christian kids in high school classrooms. The ensuing battle to reinstate the teachers raises the specter of Ludka’s World War II past–a past she’s spent a lifetime trying to forget.”

Joan is also well known as a writing instructor.  I’ve already completed her free course on writing dialogue and I signed up for her rewriting course knowing that Joan does not lure you in with free content only to spend every moment shilling her paid content.

Her classes aren’t cheap but judging by what she delivers for free they will be well worth the money.   Why not start with a free class or two?  You can sign up for both Dialogue and Rewriting here.


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