One Writer’s Journey

June 29, 2018

5 Tips on Regrouping and Recharging: When to Stop Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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I’m prolific. At one level, it seems like bragging to say that.  But the reality is that I am.

So far this year I’ve written 2 nonfiction books for teens, 2 for older elementary students and rewritten three of these with comments from my editors.  I’ve reworked two nonfiction picture books for the retreat and am reworking them again.  And we’ve cleaned out my dad’s house.  As if the emotional journey there wasn’t hard enough, the air conditioner went out during what may have been one of the hottest weeks of the year.  And we’re talking Midwest hot.  Not Seattle hot.  Sorry Seattle.

Llama photo from pattern. Fingers crossed that mine is this cute.

Oddly enough even with rewrites to do, my last few weeks haven’t been particularly productive.  Simply put, I need a break.  So I took a vacation.  We spent almost a week in Tennessee with my in-laws.  By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way back most likely somewhere in Illinois.

Creativity takes a lot of energy.  It’s easy to forget that because we aren’t physically lifting heavy loads.  Instead we do it intellectually and emotionally.  It is important to take time to regroup.  I did a great job of this early in the year but later when the deadlines started coming I fell into old, bad habits.

Don’t be me.  Be smarter.  Here are 5 tips to help you out.

  1.  Take breaks throughout the day.  When you freelance, it is easy to be on the job all day long.  Don’t do that. Get up from your desk for five minutes every half hour.  Weed the garden.  Stretch.  Get the laundry from your basement laundry room.
  2. Schedule your day.  When you start your work day, start with what has to get done.  Your blog post for tomorrow.  The new chapter intro your editor wants this afternoon.  Then plan when to end your work day.  Once that time arrives, do something other than work.
  3. Screen free time.  If you work on-screen, you need to spend time off-screen.  That includes your phone.  Sundays are my screen free day.
  4. Have another creative outlet.  I’m not sure why doing something other than writing that is creative recharges me, but it does. I’m currently crocheting a llama.  My husband doesn’t get it either.  Maybe your creative thing is cooking.  Or decorating.  Or gardening.
  5. Schedule fun.  This might be a weekend trip to the Art Museum.  Or a week with family.  Or a hike.  Put these things on the calendar so you don’t ignore them.

Writing is difficult enough.  Give yourself what you need to have the energy to write.





May 11, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Write Something New

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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You may be up to your fanny in alligators – okay, grandad didn’t say fanny.  His phrase was more alliterative.  But even if you are up to your you-know-what in gators you can take 5 minutes to write something new.

In ten days, I have to write a new nonfiction book (2000 words), rewrite a nonfiction book (15,000 words), and critique 6 manuscripts.  It is, to put it mildly, going to be a race. But I’ve signed up for a May-long challenge to write something new every day.  Julie Duffy is the one running the challenge,  Obviously, Julie’s goal is to write a new short story every day for a month.   But Julie is also a practical person who knows that we each need to set our own goals.

A short story a day?  With my to-do list?  I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  But I also think that Maya Angelou is correct when she said, “You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.”  So I’ve been writing a poem a day.

Just to make sure that my brain understand that there are not work, I’m not keying them in at the computer. I am writing them in my journal.  I have a set of unlined pages in the back and I just pick a spot on the page and write.  Some poems run top to bottom. Sometimes I rotate the journal and write with the gutter at the top of the page.  It’s a mess but I’m just having fun.

So far I have a chant about birds, a violet haiku, a free verse poem about my never-ending pink bedroom, a morning-glory haiku, a chant about writing, and more.  They are definitely a bit of a mess but that’s okay because they are fueling my creativity in those two nonfiction books that I’m working on and the decluttering that I’ve also undertaken.  What can I say?  Creativity is driving me to get to work.  With that in mind . . . off to rewrite.



May 19, 2017

Creating Kid Content: Are You Ready?

Young readers – don’t fence them in.

Thursday I watched an interesting Ted Talk, What Adults Can Learn from Kids with Adora Svitak. Svitak makes some interesting points, especially for those of us who create for a younger audience.   (My plan was to link to it but that funciton seems to be “limited” today, so I’ll imbed the video below.)

When adults get “creative,” they put limiters on it.  Thus, the quotation marks.  An idea that is too big or like something never seen before will often by labled impossible and be dropped.  Adults look at how much something costs, weighing the cost benefits of an idea.  They wonder how it will ultimately benefit them.

Young creators, in contrast, reach for the impossible.  They consider whether an idea is fun or awesome over whether or not is plausible or practical.  Kids think in terms of perfection (perfectly fun, perfectly amazing) and abundance (what if everyone could have X) where an adult would immediately look at how practical the idea is.

Given the differences between how adults and our young audiences think, it isn’t surprising that adults think in terms of limits and rules and what kids can handle.  Svitak would appreciate it if we would just knock that off, thank you.

What does this have to do with our writing?  This is me, not Svitak, talking but I have to imagine that she would encourage us to push our perceived limits.  When writing (or illustrating) for young readers, consider the following:

What would make this story more fun?  Silly?  Laugh-out-loud fabulous?

What are my perceived limits where this story is concerned?  Perhaps it has to do with what my reader would understand or who my characters are.  What would happen if I stepped beyond that?

What would happen if instead of the current setting my story was set someplace extreme?  Someplace high or low, hot or cold or simply out of this world?

What does my audience already know about this nonficiton topic?  Why only that?  How can I make my story bigger, better or more extreme?  (While other kids were hearing The Wheels on the Bus, her father was reading them Pioneer Germ Fighters by Navin Sullivan.  Yes, it is a book for young readers but it wasn’t a book for preschoolers.

What limits have you needlessly put on your audience and your work?




December 24, 2015

Feeling Creative?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am

creative wonderDo you feel creative when you write?  Not productive.  Not skilled.  Creative. It’s something we tend to lose track as we learn to effectively adult.

This was really brought home to me when I taught Bible school.  The program ran in the early evenings and included adults and children.  I taught the adults but got to see the kids at work as well.

A friend of mine was teaching the craft session and on the night she couldn’t be there her son took over. We were drawing quilt squared so all he had to do was give out instructions. When he gave the instructions to the kids, there were the usual mixed reactions.  Some immediately reached for the fabric markers.  Some sat there for a minute before they got to work.  As they worked, parts of the group chatted and laughed.  Others focused intently on what they were doing.

Last but not least, he had my adult class. Again, he gave the instructions.  No one reached for the markers.  No one gazed into the middle distance. Instead, they peppered him with questions.  Can I do this?  Is this okay?  Question after question.  It quickly became clear that the adults weren’t going to just jump into this. They wanted parameters.  They wanted to know what was right.  They were determined to find out what would win approval.

Sound familiar?  All too often that’s how I approach my writing.  That’s why sometimes I need to shake things up.  I need to try something just to see how it changes things.  I need to be creative.

Sometimes, I write a poem.  I’m not a poet so I generally need a nudge which I get from In the Palm of Your Hand, which is something of a print poetry workshop.

Sometimes I rewrite a scene.  How is that creative?  I change POV characters. I change it from 3rd person to 1st person.  I change the setting/time period.

Other times I brainstorm picture book ideas.  I either use the weekly prompt at Illustration Friday or a check out the latest photos on Pexel.

These things help me tap back into my sense of creativity — enjoying creation for the sake of creation and not worrying about getting it right.

So, let me ask you again — do you feel creative when you write?  If the answer is no, what are you going to do about it?



November 26, 2014

Being Your Authentic Self

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am
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As writers we struggle.  How can you present something to the publishing world that fits into a cateogory that marketing will understand while also producing something that is unique and truly your own?  If you’ve tried to do this and had trouble making sales, you may be tempted to believe that it simply cannot be done.  There are days that I would agree with you but then I saw this TED presentation on being yourself.

At only 16, Rosie King has filmed a documentary, illustrated a book and filmed a TED presentation.  She’s done all of these things living within the autism spectrum; Rosie has been diagnosed with Asphergers.  I loved the part where she describes spending time in a world in her own head when the real world, very often in algebra, proves tedious and dull.  And doesn’t that “world in her head” sound familiar?

In spite of the fact that she does not fit in the “normal” box, Rosie has accomplished so much.  As she explains it is because she finds a goal and sets about making it so.  She doesn’t seek approval or evaluate her idea against others that are normal.  She simply does.

Where would we be in the world of literature if Rowling had agreed that her books are too long, if Jeff Kinney capitulated about combining text with simple line drawings or if Suzanne Collins realized that no one would accept such a harsh, unhappy setting in a children’s book.

Find the world in your head and commit it to story.


March 11, 2014

Playing It Safe: Why This Is a Bad Idea

Taking risksI recently read a blog post by Emma Dryden titled Why Playing It Safe Might be the Most Dangerous Game of All.  In her post, Dryden discusses literature as a safe venue for readers to take risks.  Dryden isn’t an advocate for running with scissors.  In fact, she admits that we are right in wanting to keep our children safe.  That said, she also believes that the world of story is a safe place for our children to explore.

I have to admit that I did a little happy dance when I read this.  I have a story that I’ve always loved.  It is about a toddler who climbs out of his crib and hides among his stuffed animals.

“Stop, stop!  Don’t let him do it.  Your telling children that its okay to climb on furniture and someone is going to die.” It sounds extreme, but that’s how one critique partner reacted to the story.  No way, no how could I have a toddler getting out of a crib on his own.  It was just too risky.  Can you say child endangerment?

But think about it.  Think about the stories you loved as a child.  My favorites were probably the original Box Car Children novel and Tarzan.  I loved the idea of setting up house in a train car and scrounging for dishes and household items in the dump.  Loved it.  I checked this book out of my school library constantly.  Yet, I was the child who refused to use public restrooms that didn’t look clean enough.  The Box Car Children completely failed to change this.

And Tarzan?  I may have had wild imaginings about swinging through the trees and battling evil whatever, but that’s all they were — imaginings.

Let’s face facts.  Stories are the perfect place for readers to take risks, suffer the consequences and make amends all without incurring a scar or a bruise. This doesn’t mean that everything you write for young readers needs to be edgy but it does need to be interesting.  If your characters don’t take risks, you are taking the risk of boring your reader, and bored readers won’t be your readers for very long.

For more on taking risks as a writer, check out my blog post today on the Muffin.


November 27, 2012

Creativity and Passing the Torch

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:09 am

Different people write for different reasons but here’s a creepy little video about the creative process.  Fun, yes, but also creepy.   If you’re listening to this in the office, there is background music.  Turn it up.   Turn it down.  The choice is yours!

Special thanks to Lynn Viehl who blogs at Paperback Writer for bringing it to my attention.


July 31, 2012

The nature of the creative process

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:12 am
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Yes, this is 20 minutes long, but it is well worth your time as a creative individual.  In this TED presentation, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talks about how to create a distance between yourself and the anxiety about possible reactions to your work as well as why creativity sometimes comes together and sometimes not.

You may have heard an excerpt from this talk before, when the creative process of fellow writer, poet Ruth Stone.  It is well worth the time to watch the whole thing as Gilbert discusses the creative process of several well known artists.

Look at the comments and you’ll see that not everyone agrees with her.  Those of you who know me well can guess when and where I’m rolling my eyes towards the ceiling.   But she will definitely give you something to consider.

Special thanks to agent Janet Reid who originally brought the complete presentation to my attention when she posted about it on her own blog.


May 6, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:15 am
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We creative types do all kinds of things to get the creative juices flowing.  We prewrite.  We brainstorm.  We meditate.  And we doodle.

One of the latest doodling crazes is Zentangle.  Zentangle involves doodling repetitive patterns  in black pen on white paper squares.  The images of Zentangles pulled me in — its probably my graphics background but whenever I see pen and ink, I have to check it out.  But then I noticed that there are zentangle seminars and classes.  There are trained instructors.

Wah?  Trained instructors?  To doodle?  In their defense, the idea is to doodle yourself into a zen-like meditative state.

But I know me.  I am not going to relax if I am trying to doodle “by the book.”  I’ll be far too focused on the book.

Fortunately, Rich Davis has a far more relaxed approach.

Why not try doodling your way past your next block?  I’ll be giving it a try once I can get beyond the idea of doodling with rules.



February 11, 2011

Nurturing Your Creativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:06 am

One of my knitting projects, Eduardo, sporting a paper pirate hat.

Part of building a sustainable creative life (the subject of yesterday’s post) is nurturing your creativity. But what do we mean when we say “nurturing your creativity”?

Part of it is writing what you love so that writing doesn’t become a chore.

The other part is doing things that fuel your creativity.

Write what you love.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  After all, what kind of nut would spend hours and hours doing writing she doesn’t love?  A nut who has a contract.  A nut who needs to earn a living with her writing and finds herself doing something she really, really dislikes.

The fact of the matter is that if you need to make your living as a writer, you will sometimes end up writing things that simply are not fun.  What do you do? In part, you suck it up.  We all need an income.  It has something to do with needing food and clothes and someplace to live.

But you also make sure that you have time to do the writing you love.  Make sure that your writing to-do list includes at least one project that makes you want to dance.  You know the kind of dance I mean — that little happy foot thing that kids, and certain adults, do when they see a chocolate fountain in the middle of the dining room table.  At least part of every work week needs to be given over to that type of writing.

If all of the writing you do is simply because you expect it to pay, then you are not fueling your creativity.

Another part of fueling your creativity is doing other creative things.  Just what depends entirely on you.  I knit, do kirigami and make cards.  I’ve also started doing the sketching exercises at Rich Davis’s blog.  I bake bread and make desserts.

Fueling your creativity also means doing things that aren’t necessarily creative just because they make you smile.  I read.  I play computer games.  I also have people over — think food, wine, and that chocolate fountain.

Last but not least, fueling your creativity means keeping yourself healthy.  Get enough sleep — getting up at 4 am to write if it means you only get 4 hours sleep is probably a bad idea.  Make time to move — this might mean going to the gym or simply strolling through a city garden.  But get up and move.  Don’t spend all your time seated at the computer.

Do these four things — write something you love, do other creative things, do things that are just plain fun, and take care of yourself — and you might be surprised just how creative you become.


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