One Writer’s Journey

March 26, 2020

The Three Levels of Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:14 am
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If this is going to be the new normal for a while, I’m going to have to find a way to make it work.  The boy is attending his college classes from home.  My husband is now my office mate which includes daily 2 pm conference calls which, I have to be honest, seem really pointless.  “Are you all doing your work?  Good boys and girls.”  I have two upcoming deadlines.  Time to get going on my writing.

The Big Picture

When it is time to start a new project, I generally consider the big picture first.  In her post, this is what Barbara Linn Probst calls the macro level.  What is the book about?  For the sake of discussion, I’m going to use People Pray as an example. The macro for this is “a book on global prayer.”

If it was a book of fiction, the macro would include the main character, this person’s goal, and what stands in the way.  Dorothy wants to go home but first has to make her way to the Wizard of Oz.  For your story to work at this level, whether your story is fiction or nonfiction, it has to be big enough for people to care.

This doesn’t meant that it has to be epic – she wants to save a kingdom.  But it does mean that it has to be meaningful.

Step by Step

Next comes what Probst called the mezzo or middle level.  In a novel, this is the scene.  People Pray is a picture book so the messo level is the spread.  What scenes or spreads need to be a part of this story for it to make sense?  This is what I consider when I write an outline.

Something has to happen in each scene or spread.  But it isn’t just a matter of keeping busy.  What happens has to matter to the story.  If you aren’t sure that a scene or spread works, take it out and see if the larger piece works without it.

Word by Word

Last but not least is what Probst calls the micro.  This is the level of individual sentences, words and punctuation.  When I want to make sure that a piece works at the micro level, I read it aloud.  Yes, even something that is book length. Reading aloud helps me here awkward phrasing and parts that are repeatative.

You can have an excellent story idea, the big picture, but without strong scene development and top notch copy editing, it isn’t going to reach your audience.  So when developing a new piece, take it one step at a time.


December 23, 2019

Writing: How To Be a Writer During the Holidays

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:28 am
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If you are anything like me, you may be a writer but you are also a wife, a mom, and any number of other things – choir member, PTG president, etc.  So I don’t need to tell you just how busy this time of year is.  How do you manage to find time to write?

Scale Back. Yesterday I read “3 Magical Ways to Keep Writing through the Holidays” by Julie Duffy.  One of the things that she suggests is scaling things back during this busy time.  You want to spend time with your family and friends but if you are in the middle of something big you may not want to quit writing altogether.  You want to keep your story voice and your characters active in your imagination.  So don’t try to write 1000 words.  Write 500 or 250.  Just keep things moving.

Write Small.  If you tend to write long, you might also try writing short.  Draft a handfulf of new poems.  Try a micro-essay.  Write up a couple of crafts.  Working on something bite-sized is still writing and by the time the New Year rolls around you may have something to submit.

Jot Things Down.  Maybe you are inspired by a conversation with your Aunt Mertyl or the story told by your mother-in-law sparked an idea.  Tale a few notes.  Write the first paragraph.  Jot down what you need to jot down to capture that moment.  You can take setting notes.  Write down the sensory perceptions that came to you while making fudge or bakign a special Christmas cookie.

Journal.  It is easy to see how jotting things down can easily become journaling.  Write your impressions of the holidays.  If you’ve been working on dialogue in your stories, jot down a few lines of dialogue each day.  Or note setting details.  Or how someone reveals their emotions in how they move.

We’ve all heard the advice – write every day.  I would amend that to “be a writer every day.”  During the holidays, that may mean collecting the information that you can use in your writing throughout the coming year.


July 12, 2019

A New Manuscript: How to Start Writing

Getting started can be the hardest part.

One of my students mentioned to me that she is having troubles starting her manuscript.  She has the research.  She has the outline.  She just can’t get the words to flow.  Here are three different ways to start writing a new manuscript if you are having this problem.

When you worry that the beginning isn’t perfect or you aren’t sure how to pull the reader in.  Don’t start with the beginning.  Skip it and start with the body of your article, story or book.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you start with what will ultimately be chapter 2, chapter 5 or the end.  Start with a section in which you are confident.  Once you get that part written, you can write the preceding section or the following section.  Which part you write first is not important. Getting words down is important.
When you are intimidated by the blank page.  Some writers stare at that empty page and just can’t get started.  If you are a good typist, which I am not, turn off your monitor.   Write, write and write some more.  Then turn the monitor on.  Your page is no longer blank.  If you aren’t sure you can fill that WHOLE page, work with a smaller page.  I’ve roughed several picture books out on post-it notes.  Each note is a spread.  Filling these tiny little pieces of paper takes almost no effort.
Spellcheck, grammatic and all that underlining is distracting.  If you are certain you will remember to turn them back on, then turn them off.  Or you can write on paper.  Really.  That’s how the old timers used to do it.  In all truth, my first few manuscripts were written on paper because I didn’t own a PC or laptop.  I was a poor newlywed with a legal pad and an electric typewriter.  Sometimes I still write by hand.  It brings a different feel to the whole experience.
If I didn’t address your particular problem, feel free to comment below and I’ll try to help you find a solution to what is making it hard for you to get started.

June 18, 2019

Why Writing Is Like Beading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Those of you who have read my blog for any time know that not only do a write, but I also craft.  Knitting, crochet, and beading help me recharge my creative energy.  Lately, I’ve been beading lariat-style necklaces.  These necklaces are a single four foot strand of beads.  There is no clasp, so you knot or loop the strand.  Or whatever.

The point is that they are really flexible just like the books we write. A picture book can be fact or fiction.  It can be written in rhyme or prose.  It can also come together relatively easily (relatively) or take multiple tries.  Just like beading a necklace.

Sometimes following the pattern works.  When I tell you how to storyboard a picture book, that’s like giving you a pattern.  Follow these steps to create a picture book.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it works.  Your writing style and my writing style are enough alike that you can use my method.  Ta-da!  When I made my first lariat necklace, I used different beads than the pattern called for but it came together easily.

Sometimes following the pattern doesn’t work.  You write nonfiction.  I write nonfiction.  But when you try to follow my story boarding steps, it doesn’t work.  The balance is just off and, although you notice this early on, you keep working hoping it will sort itself out.  But it doesn’t.  So you study my steps.  Then you study what you have.  You see where you can tweak things to make it work.  That’s what happened when I tried making a necklace for a friend, but with a few adjustments it came together.

Sometimes you think that something isn’t going to work but then it does.  Last week, I got a rewrite request from my editor.  I read one of the things that she wanted and . . . uh, no.  There is no way that will work.  So I made all of the smaller changes and saved this until dead last.  Fine, just fine!  I made the changes she suggested and . . . it worked.  When a friend asked me to make her a necklace in golden and deep red beads, I cringed.  These weren’t my kinds of colors and I just couldn’t see it.  But I started stringing and . . . wow.  It looked great.

Writing is a lot like beading.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it all comes together.  Sometimes you have to make a few adjustments.  Other times, you are certain you’ve been asked to do the impossible and it all falls into place.

Word by word.  Bead by bead.  The creative process is a funny thing.


May 13, 2019

Field Trip! Literature and Writing in the Wide World

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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If any of you are in St. Louis, Missouri, make time to head to the St. Louis City library headquarters on Olive for the Print to Pixels: How Words Changed the World exhibit.  It runs through June 2.

The exhibit traces the history of print from cuneiform to modern printing — there is even a 3-D printer working away at one end of the exhibit. A time line the length of the library’s main gallery traces the development of paper and other medium on which text is printed as well as the printing process itself.

For me the highlights included getting to see cuneiform, Balinese books printed on bamboo strips that are gathered into a fan, illuminated texts, a King James Bible and several antique type writers.  They even had one there that doesn’t feature the qwerty keyboard.

There is also a functioning letterpress run by Firecracker Press.  They print note cards, journals and posters that are offered for sale.  They also have hands on workshops from 1 – 2 on various Saturdays but these dates and times are not on the library website.  I would call for dates and times if you are interested.

Younger people who have never used a typewriter will likely appreciate the table of typewriters at one end of the hall.  Visitors are encouraged to type a letter that will then become a part of the display.

The exhibit is super informative but it is also billed as interactive.  That, in my opinion, is a stretch.  But then I’m used to the interactivity of the Magic House and various exhibits at the Science Center.  Call it interactive and my expectations are high.

Still it was definitely worth the trip.  One thing that surprised me was the reaction the invention of the typewriter.  This was seen as a ground breaking innovation that would allow people to become their own publishers.  Given that at one time books were so expensive and time consuming to produce that they were chained to library shelves and you’ll understand that this was a very big deal.

Not sure how I will use this is a story but I am noodling it over.


April 9, 2019

What Do Your Writing Rituals Looks Like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:54 am
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My Rejection Jar

Some people have a number of tried and true writing rituals.  Some people have very few.  I have two.

One comes into play when I have a lot to do and I feel like I’m not making much progress.  I set a timer and write for 25 minutes.  Then I get up and either walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes or do some quick picking up in one room.  I might pick up the shoes in the entry way, hang up jackets that are piled on the coat rack or clean off the dining room table. The latter is especially helpful if I have to get writing done and get the house cleaned because people are coming over.

Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Then write again.  After that I take a break up to half an hour and then repeat the three cycles again.  I’m not sure why this works but my productivity always increases.

When I am working on a rewrite, I print off the manuscript and go sit in the dining room.  I have my cup of coffee and my licorice candle. Again, working in the dining rooms seems to send a signal to my brain.  I’m just happy it works!

I used to have a third ritual. Whenever I got a rejection, I would pull a slip out of the “rejection jar.”  Each slip listed a treat – listen to a book and knit, go to a movie, go buy the yarn for a new project.  This way I associated rejection with something good.  And in reality it is a good thing because you are getting your work out there.  I actually haven’t done this in quite a while but it was really helpful in the past.

What writing rituals do you have?


February 25, 2019

Writing on Retreat

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:54 am
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Write, write, write.

Just how much would you get done if you had unlimited time to write.  I pretty well found out this weekend.  I was at Toddhall Retreat Center (see photos) for an unstructured writing retreat.  I am going to be so productive!


Before leaving town I finished a very rough draft of my latest Abdo book.  Once I got to Toddhall, time to decompress.  I listened to two hours of my audio book and several WriteOnCon podcasts and videos while knitting.


I rewrote and cleaned up a synopsis and a query letter for Puke-ology.  I also reworked my proposal for a series.  All are ready to edit on paper.  Woo-hoo!

Still not sure how to proceed on the mystery, I decided to put that off until Sunday.


I finally sat down and made myself write 800 words on the mystery.  It was not pretty.  But I wrote a bit more.

This weekend really proved to me that I am not entirely a pantser.  If I don’t know where I am going, progress comes to a halt.  If I know or even if I have a vague clue, like with the nonfiction, I make good progress.

Will I do this again?  Not right away.  But I might try one of the study room at the library, somewhere close to home where I can write and not be distracted by the 7000 other things that need doing.



February 11, 2019

Loving What You Do: Reading Great Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Since this is Valentines week, I’ll be writing a series of posts about loving what you do, how to keep your writing energy high and your enthusiasm up.  Because, let’s face it, being creative takes a lot of energy.

One of the most important things you should do is read.

Read the types of books you want to write.  These books will show you what has already been written.  From them you will also see how writers create three-dimensional characters, exciting plots, living settings and more.  For me, this means reading good nonfiction. One of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2018 was Chester Nez and the Unbreakable CodeA Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes (Albert Whitman and Company).  It tells his childhood, his life at the Indian schools, being trained for the military, and how his culture helped him survive the horrors of the war and the memories after.

Read books you love.  I will  never write an “own voices” story as a marginalized author.  It’s just not in the cards.  But I love many of these books and reading books you love fuels your enthusiasm for books and for writing.  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt) was one of those books for me.  I can’t write an authentic African experience, but I can appreciate a fiery female protagonist who has to overcome her own insecurities to fully be herself.  And I can write that kind of character even if she will occupy a complete different type of story.

Read widely.  Read books that were popular when you were a child, the books that encouraged you to love reading.  But also read what is popular today, because unless you are a teen the chances are that things have changed between then and now.

But read.  When a rewrite is being unbearable, briefly shelter in a great book.  Remind yourself just how much you love to read.  It makes the agony of writing worthwhile.


April 12, 2018

Writing: Getting the Words Down NOW

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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I know writers who wander around waiting to trip over their muse before they actually write.  I have a book due the end of next week. When you have a deadline, you have to write.  Period.  You can’t wait for Ms. Muse to make an appearance.  Here are three different ways to make the writing happen.

  1. The Pomodoro technique.  This a productivity tool that can be used by anyone who has a big job to get done.  You work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes, take another 5 minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes and take another 5 minute break.  Then you work for one more 25 minute period and then you get a longer break, 20 to 30 minutes.The Pomodoro technique works really well for me.  I think that a big part of it is simply knowing that I only have 25 minutes to get something accomplished.  Click to find out more about the Pomodoro technique.
  2.  Dictate your story.  One writing buddy of mine dictates her work using Dragon.  I’ve heard various writers say that this is a great way to develop your voice and improve the dialogue in your stories.  I plan to give this a try when I draft my novel.  But I don’t think it will work with the teen nonfiction book I am currently writing.  For one thing, I can’t imagine trying to say all of those Latin taxonomical names.A word of warning.  Dictation software isn’t 100% accurate but dictation is a major pain in the rear.  Once you get really good at transcription you can usually type 30 minutes of dictation in 90 or so minutes.  More often it will take closer to three hours.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  This is why I plan to give Dragon a try.
  3. Writing out-of-order.  You can also write scenes or chapters out-of-order.  If something is giving you trouble, skip to another section.  I do this with nonfiction more often than I do it with fiction.  When I finish one chapter and have just a small amount of time to work on the next, I often write the sidebars first.  They are short so I can get two or three done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

If you have a technique that helps you keep the words flowing, share it in the comments below.


February 7, 2018

The Most Important Thing for a Writer’s Career

I don’t remember where I saw this on Tuesday.  I read blogs while I’m on the treadmill.  But somewhere on the great web, someone made the comment that the most important thing an author can do to further their career is develop their online presence in a way to help sell their books.

Now, I’m not discounting the importance of this.  It is vital. But there are two things that are actually more important.

First, you have to write.  So  many people talk about how much they want to write.  They have ideas.  They have plans.  They set up a workspace. They buy cute office supplies.  Ooops.  Writing at home is too distracting.  They buy a lap top and set up shop at the local coffee shop.

What they don’t do is write.  Sadly, that’s kind of central to the whole idea of being successful as a writer.  Sorry, but it is true.

Second, you have to finish what you write.  I don’t mean that you have to finish a draft.  That’s important.  You aren’t going to get anywhere without that first draft.  Because the first draft is the raw material that you shape into the second draft.  And it doesn’t end there.  You keep working until it is as good as you can make it.

But wait!  There’s more.  (Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Then you take it to critique group.  They read it and comment on it and now you have a plan to make it better.

All of this has to take place before you have something publishable.  Until you have something publishable, you have nothing to sell.  I’m not saying don’t develop an online presence.  In truth, there are days that the online community is all that keeps you going.  But to be a successful writer you have to write something of quality.

Then you can sell it.  But first?  You need to write.



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