Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Best Part

I love the entire process of creating a book, from the research to the writing and revising. But maybe the best part is when I can hold my new books in my hand. There's nothing like the satisfaction of knowing all the hours you've put into something—all those moments when you thought it would never be what you wanted it to be—have created something even more than you could have imagined.

Here are my latest releases, including new books in the Peoples of North America and Amazing Animals series, as well as a new series, called Disaster for All Time:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Which I Do Things the Old-Fashioned Way--or, Writing with Pen and Paper

Whenever I visit schools to talk about the writing process, I get to the part about revision, and a collective groan goes up. So I, of course, tell the students that revision is where the magic happens in writing—where you take the sludge you’ve just thrown on the page and mold and compress and shape it until it towers like a prize-winning sand castle.

And if that doesn’t convince them, I tell them how good they have it. “When I was your age,” I say—immediately dating myself as no longer young and hip because I’m old enough to use a phrase like that—“revision was a lot harder.” Oh man, this is sounding like the proverbial story my parents used to tell me about walking five miles to school uphill—both ways.

But bear with me. Today, if you want to move a sentence, no problem, just cut and paste. Want to cut an entire paragraph? Just highlight and hit delete. And adding words doesn’t require an ugly caret (you know, one of those triangle marks kind of like an arrow). Just plunk your cursor where you want the new information and start typing.

And then I tell students how we used to have to do it: Recopy everything by hand! Talk about making a person not want to revise. Why should I replace the word “go” with “saunter” if doing so means rewriting an entire page—and that’s assuming I don’t mess up somewhere else and have to start over three times.

I was in high school when my family bought our first word processor. Finally, my editor self could go wild! I could cut and move things. I could add entire sentences or even paragraphs—and the word processor would shift everything for me. Granted, it took forever to reformat the page, and it might lose a few lines in the process. But still, the hand cramps it saved me!

So, I clearly am a fan of technology and the advances it brings to the writing process.

HOWEVER. You knew there would be a however, didn’t you?

However, sometimes a computer just can’t take the place of good old pen and paper. There’s something different about the way our brains work when we’re typing and when we’re writing. I don’t know the science behind it—and I really don’t need to (though if anyone knows, feel free to chime in—I’d love to hear it). All I need to know is that I think and process information differently when I have my hands on a keyboard compared to when I’m clutching a pen in my hand and furiously scribbling away on the page. I suspect it has something to do with the tactile feel of the the pen and the tangible act of forming words on the page, but whatever the reason, it works.

While I often write a first draft on the computer (because my typing hands are faster than my writing hands and my head is faster than both at this stage of the process), I prefer to do my revising on paper. It’s not pretty, with lines crossed out here, rewritten, and crossed out again, and arrows zigzagging across the page or even across multiple pages. But it works for me. It allows my imagination to just kind of ooze onto the page. And that’s what I need when I’m revising. Of course, later I have to go back and decipher all those marks so I can make the changes on my electronic manuscript, but that’s later me’s problem. For now, I can scribble to my heart’s content.

Pen and paper (or notecards, ah how I love notecards!) are also excellent for outlining. I use notecards as a sort of freeform brainstorm of all the potential scenes, descriptions, and more wandering around in my head. Later, I can rearrange them, move them, pull cards out or put new ones in.

And even though I haven’t written an entire draft on paper in years (welcome back, hand cramps), I have been known to work out difficult scenes entirely on paper. When I’m first playing around with an idea, just noodling potential scenarios, I might sketch those out (with words, not my rudimentary stick figures) on paper, too.

Paper is great for journaling as well. This year, I set myself the challenge of starting each writing session by writing a poem—gotta exercise those creative muscles so they don’t get flabby. I find that writing poetry on paper feels much more organic and natural than pounding it out on a sterile, lifeless computer. That direct conduit from my brain to the paper through my arm allows me to sling words onto the page uninhibited by whatever it is that holds me back when I’m staring at a blank screen.

Plus, I hear you can use paper if you’re ever in a situation where you don’t have an electronic device with you (unthinkable, I know, but I hear it happens).

So next time you’re stuck or you want to experience your work in a whole new way, put aside the computer (and tablet and phone) and pull out a good old-fashioned piece of paper and a pen (I find colored ones make me the happiest, incidentally). Then let your imagination slip right out onto the page with the ink. You might be surprised at the results.

What about you? Do you use old-fashioned pen and paper for any part of the writing process? Do you find it differs from typing on a computer or other device, or is it just me? Let me know in the comments.

If you’d like more writing, editing, and grammar tips sent directly to your inbox, you can sign up here. And if you’re looking for help taking your writing to the next level, check out my editorial services.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Landing My Dream Job

Remember when you were five and wanted to be an astronaut or a princess or an airplane, and all the adults around you told you that you could absolutely be anything you wanted to be? From the time I can remember, more than anything I wanted to be a writer or an editor. It was a dream my family and teachers and everyone around me nurtured and supported through my grade school years.

But as I got older and had to start thinking for real about what I wanted to do with my future, something changed. I still loved writing and editing, but I began to wonder if these were real jobs. And even if they were, who was I to think I could have a career in publishing? Some of the adults around me began to encourage me to pursue more "practical" careers than writing as well.

So, in the end, I chickened out from wholeheartedly pursuing writing. Oh, I studied Communication, English, and Spanish in college, but I no longer thought a career in publishing was in my future, even if I continued to secretly hope it might be. After college, I took a position in public relations and financial development for the American Red Cross. And though I enjoyed the writing and editing I did in that job, it wasn't quite the same as writing and editing books.

Then my husband decided to go back to school to become a pastor, which meant a move to a new state. To my surprise, our new hometown boasted several publishing houses. It felt like an opportunity had just landed in my backyard, and I hoped just maybe this was my chance to finally establish a career in publishing. I sent my resume to The Creative Company and soon found myself an editor for an award-winning children's publishing house. To say it was a dream come true wouldn't do the moment justice.

Under the guidance of my mentor at Creative, I learned the ins and outs of editing and had the chance to work with some amazing authors on their books. I even authored my first series of published books—and have since gone on to write more than 250 titles.

Until taking the job with Creative, I had never realized it was possible to love working so much! I never wanted to leave. But my husband eventually finished school, and we had to move out of the area. Fortunately, writing and editing can be done anywhere, and for the past 14 years, I've continued to work with publishing companies, individuals, and businesses to meet their writing and editing needs.
My early days as a freelance editor coincided with my early days as a new mom.
Always good to have a helper!

I am fully aware of how blessed I am to wake up every day looking forward to the work ahead of me. I am quite literally living my dream and loving every moment of it. So if you have a dream, keep working for it. I truly believe you can achieve it!

Is your dream to become an author, to create an award-winning website, or to finish your dissertation? Let me know in the comments. And if there's any way I can help you, feel free to visit my editorial website.

School Visit, Pulaski, Wisconsin (Or, When My Heart Melted)

5 days. 2 schools. 1,000+ students. 30 presentations.

I enjoyed an exhausting but wonderful week visiting Glenbrook and Sunnyside Elementary schools in Pulaski, Wisconsin. As always, I loved sharing my experiences as an author and teaching students about the process of researching, writing, and revising a book, but my favorite part of the visit was the inspiration these young creatives gave me. Check out these amazing books and letters they wrote for me.

One even dedicated his book to me. And another wrote, "When I was just 7 years old, I started to read your books. I thinked, hey, I want to be a writer. I'd always wanted to meet you and it finally came true." 

This right here? It's exactly why I do what I do!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Writing to "THE END"

Whenever I visit schools, I tell students that anyone can be a writer--and I sincerely mean it. So I was especially excited to receive an email from a middle-school student a few days after visiting her school. She said she was amazed by the chance to meet a published author (which made my heart melt a little) and that she'd like to be an author one day. But she was worried that she often lost enthusiasm for a book once she was a few scenes into it. She asked if I had any advice to help her keep up her excitement until she wrote those magic words: "THE END."

Since this is a common problem no matter your age or experience level (it's not just me, right?), I thought I'd share the advice I shared with her, in the hopes that it will help others, too:
  • I find it often helps to start with a character. Think about the kind of person you'd like to write about. What is that person's greatest fear or worry? What kind of situation could you put them in that would make them have to deal with and overcome that fear or worry.
  • A lot of times (for me at least), the problem with sticking with a story is that I don't know what should happen next. Or you might know how the story starts and ends, but you're not sure what should happen in between. If this is the case, you might do some brainstorming before you start writing (or when you get stuck). Think about the worst thing that could happen to your character--and then make it happen to her (it sounds mean, I know, but you also get to figure out how your character solves/deals with the problem). Or maybe think about completely unexpected plot twists you could add. Or what about a quirky secondary character who might add another dimension to your story? You don't necessarily have to plan out your whole novel (though you can!), but just jotting down some ideas can get you excited to keep going.
  • Instead of thinking of your writing as a huge, overwhelming project, break it down into scenes or shorter sections. Just try to write one scene at a time, and don't worry about the rest while you write it.
  • Set goals for yourself. Maybe your goal is to write 100 or 500 or 1,000 words a day or to write for 15 or 30 or 60 minutes a day. Try to stick to your goals, even when you aren't sure what to write (but don't be too hard on yourself if some days you just can't stick to it). Track how much you've written each day. Seeing your progress provides great motivation to keep going. Even though National Novel Writing Month is over, you can still create and track goals all year at (for adults) or (for students).
  • Give yourself permission to write badly. That's what first drafts are for. Try to turn off your inner editor (the voice that keeps telling you to change things) and just write. You can always make changes later--that's what revising is for. Sometimes we worry so much about writing the "right" thing that we don't write anything at all. If you really can't figure out what to write, just spend a few minutes writing whatever comes to mind, even if it has nothing to do with the story. After a few minutes of free writing, let your mind shift to thinking about your story and see what comes out.
  • Promise yourself to stick with a story to the end. It's so hard, I know! But once you finish one story, it will be so much easier to finish the next one, because you'll know you can do it. You can even bribe yourself with the promise of a small reward (my favorite: chocolate, a bath, and a favorite book) for your accomplishment.

A few weeks after sending the student these tips, she wrote back to say they were helping--she'd already written 15,000 words of a new novel. If she can do it--and if I can do it--then you can, too! Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

School Visit: Arcadia, WI

The 3.5-hour drive to Arcadia, Wisconsin, was worth it for the chance to visit with these enthusiastic students! Check out all those raised hands! That's because these kids know that they're all writers, too.

And these brave volunteers helped us learn about the difference between fiction and nonfiction--it's not the topic, it's whether it's true or made up. Like the spiffy costumes I made? Believe it or not, I am not a professional costume designer. You can tell some of them are thinking, "What am I supposed to be?" But they were good sports about it!

To learn more about setting up a visit for your school, check out my Author Visits page or contact me.

Friday, October 13, 2017

School Visit: Oshkosh, Wisconsin

It appears that between writing and visiting schools, I've neglected to keep this spot updated. So to remedy that, here are some pictures from my latest school visit. I had the opportunity to spend two days at Perry Tipler Middle School and ALPs charter school in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Talk about your fun and engaged middle school students! We had a blast! I was so busy talking with students I forgot to take pictures, but fortunately an extraordinary teacher (thanks Mrs. Cottrell) came to my rescue and sent me these. I never realized how many funny faces I make while I speak!