It’s great to be in a critique group, you can learn so much. But most writing you have to do on your own. And you can learn so much birding with others. But at some point, you have to learn to identify the birds on your own.
Sometimes you go in search of a story, seeking, pushing, striving. You’re plotting it out, asking what if questions, scratching out ideas, rewriting. And sometimes, you wake up from a nap and the story is sitting right there, ready and complete from start to finish, in your mind.
Most days I love to sit and bird in my backyard. I’m lucky. I have a lot of oak trees and lots of warblers and migrators pass through here spring and fall. I know the rhythms of my backyard birds very well. It’s reassuring, easy. Satisfying. Safe.
But other times I need to get away from safe. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and bird somewhere new. I need to walk, see new perspectives, hear new songs. I need to stretch my muscles and my mind and refresh my view of the world.
Birding is a lot like writing. Some days, you need to write what you know and love. Somedays, you need to learn more, learn something new, and broaden the circle of what you know and love so you can write even more.
OK readers, you’re looking for more tips on how to be a productive writer. You already know that you need to set aside time on a regular basis – something even I am having trouble doing right now!
But even when you set aside time, are you not getting the writing done? Are you dealing with distractions?
Distractions are the worst. We are so easily intrigued but things are cute and silly and NOT HARD like writing can be. But you must resist. Turn off the phone notifications. Close the email inbox. Close the door if you can.
One thing I like to do is turn on white noise “cafe sounds” to help me tune out unusual background noise. I also light a candle. I think the sensory trigger of the candle scent helps my brain remember this is writing time. These are little signals that help me focus and relax at the same time.
Little rituals like this can be so helpful when you want your body and mind to transition into writing mode.
But one thing you DON’T want to do is make up an elaborate ritual that is really hard to keep up with and wastes time before you start writing.
Truly, it doesn’t matter if you have the right background noise or a yummy candle. You just need to say, “No, writing this is more important.”
So say no to distractions and say yes to getting down to writing. You deserve it.
Are you having trouble writing? Not sure how to get started? Looking for tips to help you write more?
I do a lot of writing. Every day. And I do a lot of reading about writing. Every so often I read a book with advice on writing. These books usually have really great tips in them, but it can be hard to find the gold nuggets. Sometimes the tips and suggestions can be buried in a lot of other content. Sometimes the tips are written in a nice way, when most people need a blunt piece of direct talk. And most people don’t know what suggestions or advice will really, really work for them.
Writing can be intimidating to people who don’t do it regularly. My older kids are heading in big years at high school and college, and I know they are going to do more writing. So I picked up a writing advice book, read it over, and distilled the main points into these helpful little guiding images.
Whether you’re a new writer or an experienced writer, every one of us hits an obstacle at some time in our creative process. I’ve found these specific tips have helped me stay productive in the long run. Maybe these tips will help you, too!
Here are the first two. They are of course, about time.
We all need more time in our day to do things. Or do we? Maybe it’s not about needing more time, but using our time the right way. If you don’t give yourself the time you need – or want – to write, it’s not going to happen.
This is another way that writing is like running. You can’t train for a marathon overnight. And you can’t write a novel in one day. So set a schedule and keep to it. Little by little, step by step, line by line, you can reach the finish line of your book.
I’m so thrilled I was finally able to hold my new book in my hands last week – what a joy!
I remember each stage of the process of creating this book. It started out as an idea for a field guide for kids to learn HOW to listen to bird song. Then it became a lyrical picture book for older readers that I hoped would inspire more habitat protection. Then I had the chance to submit a bird-themed book to Kiwi Co. thanks to my incredible agent Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I revised my earlier idea and added a lot more fun bird songs but kept as much of the science as a I could. And now, it’s a real book!
I really hope it helps young readers and their loved ones get out in nature and enjoy listening to bird songs, because they are SO GOOD for your brain!
It’s only available from Kiwi Co. at the Koala Crate subscription level, so you’ll have to enjoy this video peek.
I love watching soccer, all kinds of soccer at all levels. Our whole family does! We go to local games for our rec teams, cup teams, our local USL team the Riverhounds, even MLS teams like Columbus Crew. And we took a family trip to see EPL teams Liverpool, Leeds, Man U and Everton. And OF COURSE we go to cheer on the USWNT. We went to see them win in 2015, cheered for them in 2019 and are chanting LFG for 2023.
It’s incredible to watch really skilled players on the field with their dribbling, juggling, passing and shooting skills. They make it look so easy.
But of course they’ve been practicing for hours and hours.
I decided I wanted to learn a basic soccer skill – juggling the ball. Why not? I’m watching tons of soccer games right now as the teams in the Women’s World Cup battle it out in the group stage. So I selected one of the many soccer balls laying around our house and started juggling.
Well, I tried. And I failed.
And tried again. And failed.
“Why can’t I do this?” I complained. “It looks so easy.”
It does look easy. When my oldest was 12 he would walk through the back yard juggling a ball while eating Bagel Bites.
But here’s the thing: by this time he’d been playing soccer basically year round since he was 6. Had I put in that time and effort? Nope.
My kids offered lots of support, suggestions, and advice. They really want to see my succeed. Sometimes it felt like they were telling me contradictory things. Sometimes it felt like they weren’t helping me, just telling me what I was doing was wrong. But they were patient and positive and encouraged me to keep at it. They even reminded me to get my practice in even when I was frustrated and wanted to give up.
But the thing is, no matter how much they encourage me and no matter how much soccer I watch, there’s no magic formula. I have to put in the work to learn this skill.
It will be hard, it will take time, and I will make a lot of mistakes.
Guess what? The same goes for writing. No matter how many books I read and how many stories I analyze in movies or in critique groups, I have to put in the work to write a good story. And so do you!
Sometimes your critique partners will give contradictory advice. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated and want to quit.
You’ll read an incredible book and it will look so easy. So you’ll give it a shot, and you’ll fail.
Coaching helps. Advice from friends helps.
You don’t give up, and you try again and again and again.
And you’ll fail again, but you’ll get two good juggles. And you’ll feel amazing. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
So grab a ball and get out there. You can do this.
Can’t get enough of sushi? Love taking the family out to eat some nigiri and tamago and sashimi? Then I have a tasty book and game combo for you. But this time, I’m switching things up. Instead of a board game it’s a card game. And instead of a picture book, this book and game pairing features a middle grade novel.
Sushi Go is a classic card game that’s easy to play for all ages. It’s family style, just like sharing your favorite sushi meal. It seems simple, but takes strategy and skill to make a winning hand(roll) just like making sushi.
When you are done winning several rounds of Sushi Go, pick up This is How I Roll by Debbie Michiko Florence and dive into a tasty tale about a young girl who wants to be a chef, just like her dad. You will root for Sana as she learns to make home cooked Japanese meals and you’ll probably want to try them yourself!
As always, if you want to learn how to play, I recommend checking out “Watch It Played” on YouTube. Also,BoardGameGeek offers a lot of great recommendations and Q&A.
Once you decide you want to buy a game, please look around for a local board game store!
For more book recommendations, I ALWAYS recommend visiting and buying from your local bookstore. One way you can buy online and support a local store is by shopping through Bookshop.org.
I’m in several critique groups and I try to really provide useful, actionable feedback for my partners. I thought you might like to read some useful, actionable feedback that YOU can use on your story.
Yes, these comments are for other writers writing other books, but if you think about them in general terms you can make sure you aren’t repeating these problems in your book.
What’s the pitch for this? What’s the tight focus? I’m sure you have a query letter with a pitch, and I wonder if that would help you tighten the animal list to a specific kind of surprise. For instance, if “hunting” is the surprise, that could help you reduce the number of animals to only those that hunt by ambush. Writing the pitch helps you make sure you’re staying true to the story when you write it.
Is this book about helping kids convince parents? OR is this book about avoiding bedtime and staying up all night? I know that’s a slight nuance but I think it’s important, because I don’t think the rest of the book actually tells kids how to convince their parents, so this section needs to be revised.
I think you need to do a revision that eliminates A LOT of the scientific info and the background info and focus on the immediate experiences of your main animal character. Really put it into her perspective as much as you can, so that kids can empathize with her. They will be rooting for her to be accepted by the foster parent.You can move a ton of text to the back matter and readers will still have access to it. But by making this big revision, you will focus on the heart of your story.
I hope these comments help you strengthen your manuscript. Remember, writing the query or pitch first is a really smart idea. It helps you zoom in on exactly what you want to write, how you would sell your story in a bookstore (which makes it easier to sell to an agent or editor) and really satisfy your readers. Good luck and keep writing!
You’ve written the final draft of your book, and you’re so proud. You want to submit it to that dream agent RIGHT NOW! You’ve revised it, used the “find” tool to go through the whole manuscript and delete unnecessary words, you’ve worked on showing, not telling, and you’ve even come up with a great pitch. Nice job, because that’s a lot of hard work.
I know it’s hard, and you don’t want to wait anymore. You’ve put a lot of work into this, and you’re sure it’s ready to go!
I’m telling you, don’t submit it yet.
I highly recommend you look for a professional editor to read over your book.
Why should you hire a professional editor for your book? Here’s some feedback I received on a manuscript from the editor I hired.
So immediately, readers need to know whose story it is, what’s happening, and what’s at stake, ideally on the first page. In the first sentence, readers crave the sense that something is about to change (and likely get worse). This shows that we’re not entering the story too early or at any boring event or time for the protagonist, but exactly the right moment–the one that’s a really crucial time or moment in the protagonist’s life. We want to know that a problem is imminent and about to blow up into something really huge. Of course, this opening problem doesn’t have to be the biggest problem, or the climax problem, but it almost needs to feel that way at the time.
I love this advice. It helped me address a big problem I was having in terms of where/when to start my story. The manuscript I’m working on is nonfiction, but I want it to read like a novel, so I need it to have all the elements of a great story. Beginnings are a big part of it!
Critique groups can help you with this, too, and I love my critique groups. But the big difference for me between an editor and a critique group is that we focus JUST on my manuscript. When I’m on my follow-up call, we can dive deep into all the questions and concerns I have about my manuscript. In a critique group, I’m always very mindful about not taking up too much time. And the editor is seeing lots and lots of manuscripts, so the editor has a lot of experience helping people address problems. Your critique partners may have a lot of experience, but they may not.
Critique partners help me with specific small issues, or they help me with emotional responses to parts of my stories. But professional editors help me with story structure and the overall framework of the story. I think each one has a really valuable role to play, and I’m grateful for both. But I think working with a professional editor is going to be a main part of my projects for a long time.
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