One Writer’s Journey

January 5, 2018

National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: Jacqueline Woodson

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
Did you know that each year the Library of Congress appoints one writer as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature? Last year, the Ambassador was graphic novelist Gene Yuen Lang. He worked to encourage young readers to read beyond their comfort zone.
This year’s Ambassador is Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson is the author of over 2 dozen children’s books. She won the National Book Award in 2014 for Brown Girl Dreaming, her memoir in verse, and has received four Newbery Honors (Brown Girl Dreaming, Feathers, After Tupac and D Foster, and Show Way), two Coretta Scott King Awards (Brown Girl Dreaming and Miracle Boys), four Coretta Scott King Honors (Each Kindness, LocomotionFrom the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, and I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This) and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement.
Like many authors, Woodson considers herself an introvert.  Because of this, she was hesitant to accept this position knowing that it would keep her on the road but after talking to Lang she accepted. As she travels around the country in 2018, she will speak to kids in schools and libraries. Woodson also plans to focus on areas often overlooked by authors such as juvenile detention centers and venues in the rural South.  I can only imagine the impact that Woodson will have on young lives in these under-served areas.
Me? I’m refamiliarizing myself with her work. Why not make a trip to your local library today and join me?
You can read more about this honor in the New York Times.

January 4, 2018

Critique Group: One Way to Keep Your Writing in Perspective

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:23 am

Yesterday I had a critique group meeting.  I almost didn’t bring my manuscript because I just wasn’t thrilled with it.

The funny thing? They really like it.  They laughed at the funny parts.  They loved that my main character was into science. And one person pointed out that the setting really came alive.

Not to say that they didn’t have things for me to fix.  This story is a fantasy.  One member wanted me to hint at it in chapter one instead of waiting until chapter two.  While her suggested change isn’t going to work, I’ll definitely come up with a way to hint at the fantastic element earlier in the story. I’m not sure how I’ll do it but I will definitely find a way.

The funny thing is that I mapped out a very successful fantasy before drafting my story.  Like mine, it is set in the “real” world.  I noted when the author brought in the first hint that her book was fantasy.  I noted it and I wondered – shouldn’t she have hinted at this earlier on?  But I decided to pace it her way and see if it worked.

Obviously, the answer is no.  No, it did not.

The great thing about a critique group is that they help you put things in perspective.  When you aren’t happy with a manuscript they can help you realize if the problem is your manuscript or that you simply didn’t get enough sleep last night and have a headache.

When you are so in love with your story that you can’t conceive of needing to change anything, your critique group can  let you know when you lack perspective and have waited too long to introduce something. They can point to purple prose. They can note places with too much or too little detail.

In short, a critique group can help you find the perspective that you might lack on your own.  If you don’t have a critique group, I would really recommend that you find one.

For another post on critique groups, check out “How to Revamp Your Critique Group.”




January 3, 2018

Rewriting: Getting Back into the Project

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:32 am
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Am I ready to start my rewrite?

My first big writing job for the year will be doing a rewrite on a middle grade novel.  The first couple of chapters will be pretty easy comparatively.  They were written when I still thought it was a chapter book and didn’t realize it was early middle grade.

When I realized the mistake that I had made, I quit struggling with the characters. This meant letting them act their age. Throughout these chapters I’ll have to correct that mistake and add a bit more description and interior dialogue.

But I made a big mistake.  It took me 20 minutes today to rewrite page one because I would rework a few lines, get a bit further in, realize that I had created a new problem, go back and correct it and then rewrite a few more lines only to have to go back…

It was, simply put, frustrating.  What I should have done and what I will do after I write this blog post is reread the manuscript.  I may take a few notes but I will not make any changes.  I need to see what I have before I fiddle with anything.

Once I’ve read the whole thing again, I’ll have an actual idea where I stand.  Then I can go back and rewrite chapters 1 and 2 for critique group tomorrow night.  I know that sounds like a lot but remember that I only have 36 pages total.  Yes, it is that short.  That means that I only have to rewrite about 8 pages.  And if I only get 4 done?  No big deal.  I’ll take 4 pages.

If you’ve taken a long break between drafts, don’t rewrite until you reread.  You should be looking at the story with fresh eyes and to accomplish that you must have forgotten quite a bit.  Once you’ve reread it, then read through a chapter at a time and make notes.

Mine are going to be things like – what does she see?  Smell? Hear?  Science her up.  Add social sciences here.  Add some physical beats.

I’m afraid there will also be places that say things like – what?  This doesn’t make sense.  But I’m hoping there aren’t too many of those.

I didn’t listen to any music while I drafted this, but if I had I would put it on.  I’m going to be working from a print out in the dining room so I’ll be sure to light my rewrite candle.  That’s pretty much the extent of my rewrite ritual.

  1. Print out manuscript.
  2. Light black licorice candle.
  3. Reread manuscript.
  4. Read again and make notes.
  5. Blow out candle.
  6. Back to my desk to work on the computer.

What writing rituals do you have?

For more on rewriting, check out “When You Rewrite, Cut the Do-Nothing Chapters” and “Using a Rewrite Checklist.”



January 2, 2018

Your Yearly Word: A Single Word to Inspire You

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:53 am
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Margo Dill, one of my writing friends, has faced a grim reality where resolutions are concerned.  She doesn’t keep them.  For the past several years, instead of setting resolutions, she chooses a word for the year.  Throughout the year, she works to focus her efforts around that one word.

In 2017, she chose peace.   This year she chose calm.  This word will be her focus for family and self, work and writing.  You can read her blog post about this here.

If you were to choose a single word, what would it be?  Here are a few suggestions.

Are you a writer who has been trying to publish the same thing for several years?  Perhaps you’ve studied picture books, gone to picture book retreats and read about how to write better picture books.  Now might be a good time to try something NEW.

If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person with too many interests, you may feel stalled because you don’t have the energy to devote to a single project.  Your best approach might be to FOCUS.

Maybe it is difficult for you to find time to write.  You’ve tried to write an hour a day.  You’ve tried 30 minutes.  But you just can’t depend on not getting interrupted.  Instead of trying to focus for a large block of time, go for a manner of minutes.  You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in FIVE.

For some of us, it is hard to quiet our inner editor.  We struggle to get one sentence perfect before we write another.  We right and rewrite one sentence to the point that we accomplish little.  We might need to remember that that first draft is just that, a DRAFT.

If you want to rekindle the joy in your work or bring a bit of humor to a serious project, choose LAUGHTER.

If you are writing for young readers who love to explore the world, select DISCOVER.

There are so many single words that we could each choose.  What would be your pick?


January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 7:27 am
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explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Happy New Year!  I hope you have some fun plans for New Years Day.

As I write this, it is New Year’s Eve.  We got up to water standing in the dishwasher and kitchen sink.  At least the bathrooms are still draining but my husband is working at clearing the drain pipe.  Actually he’s working at removing/opening some plug/lid/vent. I’m staying out of sight.  I’ve been doing some picking up and light housework.

Later we have people coming over.  We are borrowing a friend’s children and cooking hot dogs in the fireplace.

The day that you read this won’t be devoted to writing either.  Some of my son’s friends are coming over to cook chili.  It seems like a really good idea since the projected high for the day is 10 degrees.  Let them cook and warm up my house!

I’ve been noodling over my writing plans for 2018.  Several plans have asked me to write a book based on one of my Muffin posts for WOW! Women on Writing. They want me to cover how to write your novel in 5 minutes a day.  That’s how I drafted my middle grade novel in a month.  I had written something like 3 chapters and then didn’t make any progress.  So I decided to work on it 5 minutes a day while I was also writing a contracted book.  I managed to get both done in a month.

I’m going to spend the early part of 2018 testing out a variety of ways you can move your writing along in five minutes a day.  This will include rewriting my middle grade, outlining an adult novel, researching agents, and cleaning out my office.  While I’m doing these things, I’ll also be working on that 5 Minutes a Day idea.

So what are your plans for 2018.


December 29, 2017

Storystorm 2018: Idea Generation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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Start 2018 with a batch of new story ideas by taking part in Storystorm.  At one point in time, this program, organized by author Tara Lazar, was known as PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and took place in November.  But Tara wanted to expand it beyond picture books.

Now all types of children’s writers participate.  Throughout January you keep track of the ideas you generate.  The goal is to have 30 ideas by the end of the month.  There are inspirational posts and prizes for all who complete the program.  You can find out more about it here.

I found Storystorm so inspirational in 2017 that I didn’t quit when January ended.  I kept on adding to my list.  As I write this on 12/28, my list is something like 320 ideas long.  Yeah, I was a little disappointed.  I wanted one per day.

Some people discount this type of idea generation.  Who cares if you collect ideas if you don’t write them all?

  1.  Not all ideas are created equal.  Some simply do not measure up.
  2. By getting into the habit of generating story ideas, you get into the habit of generating ideas.  This my just be my opinion, but in my not-so-humble opinion, generating story ideas leads to generating other ideas.  Your stories become more original.
  3. Your list becomes a handy tool.  I have several projects that I plan to work on next year that came together because of this list.  I also use it when I need to come up with ideas for a query or pitch.  Or a nonfiction publisher puts out a call for proposals.

This paragraph is an update to the original post:  Lazar is now taking registrations.  Comment on the announcment post on her blog (linked here) to register.

This program is amazingly inspirational.  Why not take part and start your writing year in a whirlwind of creativity?

For more on idea generation, see “Idea Generation: Where Do You Get Your Ideas” and “3 Places to Turn for Story Ideas.”


December 28, 2017

Research: An Opportunity to Set the Record Straight

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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My not especially accurate nativity.

Tuesday morning I was reading through various articles when I came across a piece on flaws in the traditional nativity narrative.  In short, looking at the original text and knowing a thing or two about the local culture allows contemporary translators and scholars to straighten out a few kinks concerning where the baby would have been born. He would have been born in the family quarters and laid in the manger located in that part of the home.

The article I read appeared here on the Presbyterian Outlook web page. It included research into the culture of that area at that time.  Instead of going back to the Latin text (the Latin Bible from which the King James Bible was created) scholars went back to the original Greek.  This meant that they were one step closer to the story as originally told.

It can be easy to see why you need to use current research when writing about science, but people who write history often wonder why they should look for new scholarship on their topic. Writing a story or article using only older sources means that you will be rehashing what has already been written.  Yes, you may write it better.  And you may write it for a new audience.  But the information will be the same old same old.

If, on the other hand, you look at more recent scholarship, you will have the opportunity to create an updated, more accurate narrative.  This is especially important when the updated account allows for a more complete story that doesn’t malign a particular cultural group, race, or religion. It helps readers, even young readers, move from a story based on preconceptions and misunderstandings to a more complete picture.

For more on research, check out Research: How Much is EnoughResearch: Organizing What You Find, and The Library of Congress: Research and Idea .


December 26, 2017

Women of NASA

What do you get for Christmas when you’re a good children’s writer?  Fortunately, I live among people who know me well.

My husband gave me the Women of NASA Lego set.  I’ve wanted this one ever since it was first announced.  I wrote about all but one of these women.

My niece gave me bookends that look like antique typewriters. These are going to go in my office as soon as I clean off three more shelves and can hang my new bookshelves.

My friend gave me a pair of leggings that look like a star-filled night sky.  I’ll be wearing them to yoga so that my back is healthy and allows me to spend time at the computer writing.

And my brother-in-law gave me an idea for a new story.  He recently went to a talk on bees and the urban environment and just how unique our own area is where these little flying honey-making wonders are concerned.  I’ve got to look for a book that was recently published but this is pretty timely and hopeful so it is definitely something that I want to look into.

I hope that you’ve all taken a few days to rest, recharge and prepare to write well into 2018.  And, with that in mind, I have a Lego set to assemble.


December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:12 am
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From my office to yours – Merry Christmas.

I’m going to be taking a few days off for Christmas.  Between his family, my family, and our family, we are celebrating tonight, Sunday and Monday.  And that doesn’t even include get togethers with friends.

Take some time and recharge your creative batteries.  Get out there and interact and gather the inspiration you need for a writing-filled 2018.

Merry Christmas, all!


December 21, 2017

Fiction or Nonfiction: An Opportunity to Craft the Best Story

Recently, I read a blog post, that I can’t seem to locate today, about a story that was loosely based on the author’s family.  It could have been written as a memoir but she chose to write fiction.  Why?  Because she felt it made a stronger story with greater reader appeal.

That can be a tough call because there are so many marvelous TRUE stories in the world.  We want to write them all.

But if we are going to write them as nonfiction, we have to stick with the facts.  That means that the dialogue has to be verifiable as do the character motivations.  Unfortunately, these are often the hardest facts to confirm when writing nonfiction.

Writing a story as fiction, on the other hand, can make for a stronger story.  For one thing, you get to fill in those blanks as well as purify the main character’s motivation.  Of course, you can also give them a selfish or bigoted motivation if that makes for a stronger story.

Fiction also allows you to dabble with the timeline.  This means that you can compress the story to a shorter time frame to increase tension.  You can create a reason for a delay.  You can also change-up the order in which various events happened.

Nancy Churnin’s Manjhi Moves a Mountain is a fictional picture book based on true events.  In the picture book, two villages are separated by a mountain.  One village is well off.  The other is poor.  Manjhi lives in the poor village and he sees how much better life would be if there was an easier way for the people in the poor village to access the resources in the other village.  One night, the takes a hammer and chisel to the mountain.

In reality, Manjhi’s task began as a love story.  He wanted to make it easier for his wife to get the medical care she needed.  Yes, he eventually came to see how it would benefit the whole village but that was not his initial motivation. Churnin simplified his motivation creating a story that would have stronger picture book appeal.

Nonfiction or fiction.  The question you have to answer as the author is this – which would make a better story for your audience?


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