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!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Into the Fiction Trenches!

Although I adore writing nonfiction and plan to continue doing so, I've also got some exciting new things happening on the fiction front. I've recently signed with literary agent Jane Dystel of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret, who will be working to sell my young adult contemporary novel DROWNING IN AIR to a publisher. My critique partner (who reads through my work and gives me feedback and suggestions) interviewed me about my writing life on her blog. You can check it out here: And you can read more about how I dreamed about writing a novel and finally did it here: