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.

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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!