The Gift of Gratitude

What’s the best part of writing conferences?

Is it the chance to pitch? Is it insider information? Is it awards or the free food?

I think it’s the people. The connections. That’s what I miss most about going to conferences. The last big one I went to was the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York in Feb 2019. I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. I’m still thinking about the wonderful lunch I had with people from my region. Everyone was nice and funny and so generous with their time.

I met people in workshops who I’ve stayed in touch with on Twitter. I was able to celebrate when they signed with agents or gotten great reviews on books. I’ve tried to be there with supportive words during the past year.

I met writers who became teachers and mentors. I connected with them again in online classes. I’ve learned so much from – they’ve made me laugh and think deeply about important questions.

In person conferences are wonderful, but I’ve also met incredible people through online classes, too. I have a brand new nonfiction critique group thanks to an online workshop from the Highlights Foundation. It’s priceless.

I had a chance to meet my (future) agent, Miranda Paul, in New York. And I had a chance to interact with her online this summer and fall. I’m grateful for her, and her hard work.

It’s the people. I’m so grateful for each person I’ve met at writing conferences. This gratitude is a gift.

Pantser v. Plotter – Resolved

You may of heard there are two kinds of writers, pantsers, who write by the seat of their pants. They let the creativity flow and discover the story as they go.

Plotters plan it all out in advance. They know the ending before they write “once upon a time.”

I’ve done a bit of both. But at this stage in my career, I am now solidly a plotter.

This is thanks to an excellent workshop hosted by novelist Maggie Stiefvater. The workshop is available via Etsy. I’ve learned a lot about writing, but the biggest thing I think I’ve learned is to know exactly what kind of book I want to write before I write a single word.

Maggie stresses that writing is about deciding what kind of book you want to write before you write. And then sticking with that as you write. This means you need to be mindful while writing. You can’t just wander off down any path. You need to be present and active and paying attention to what you write.

Or well, at least, I need to be present and mindful and focused when I write.

Making the decisions in advance, knowing the mood, setting, characters, plot, and resolution all in advance makes the story so much more intuitive. It frees you from worry and helps you focus on all the fun parts – dialogue, action, word choice – the sprinkles on a perfectly baked and frosted cookie.

That baking metaphor is intentional, just like my writing. I started thinking about a story a year ago, in the summer of 2019. I thought and thought. I didn’t realize it but I was making decisions. Then I signed up for a novel workshop course that had a homework assignment: plot your novel before writing it.

I decided to do the homework. I came up with a very tasty plot, a sweet problem, and a satisfying conclusion. Yes, it’s a story about baking. I wrote this novel in a few short weeks, probably about 6 (but I didn’t work on it every single day). And it’s one of the best things I’ve written. Because it was PLOTTED. I was mindful all the way through about what kind of book I was writing. And don’t worry, the creativity flowed.

In 2021, I plan to make decisions and be mindful in my writing. Team Plotter all the way.

SteamTeamBooks for Incredible Nonfiction

I love reading nonfiction. I love writing nonfiction. And I love being a part of SteamTeam Books. This website features year long announcements and celebrations of nonfiction books for all ages.

Really all ages. There are “I Can Code” books for babies up to young adult novel length books.

There are all kinds of books and topics. There are books about senses, and coding. Books about oceans and moths. Books about archaeologists and poop! There are Minecraft books, biographies of well-known people (like Anne Frank) and not-so-well known people (ever hear of Emma Lillian Todd?).

Nonfiction books make great gifts for loved ones and friends, and for yourself.

SteamTeam Books started in 2020. It’s been so successful that we are carrying the group into 2021 and celebrating even more nonfiction! I’m thrilled to have books coming out in 2021 that will be a part of SteamTeam Books.

What nonfiction book would you love to write?

What nonfiction book would love to read?

The Repair Shop for Writers

the repair shop show logo

Are you watching The Repair Shop? It’s a soothing, satisfying show on Netflix that features repairs of cherished family heirlooms. I love this show. It’s not without its problems, specifically that almost every single family bringing a valuable item is white. There are too many families that had their connections to their family history torn away and destroyed by slavery and colonialism.

But the show is not without it’s useful lessons. One important one came from repairing a lamp. Steve had to rewire a lamp that had a convoluted, complicated  shape. How did he pull the wire from the lady’s foot to the torch she held aloft?

He went down to go up.

(Just like Lightning McQueen had to go left to go right.)

Steve dropped a weighed string DOWN the lamp first so he could tie it to the wire and pull the wire UP second.

He went backwards to go forward.

How can that help you as a writer? Where do you need to go backwards in order to move the story forward? Do you need to know more about your character’s backstory? More about the history of the town? Do you need to do better world-building outside the story so you know about politics or economy?

 

New Graphic Novels for Young Readers

I’m so excited to share these new graphic novels for young readers! These three new fun, fiction stories introduce readers to reading graphic novels. I adore the illustrations – they really brought each story to life. I couldn’t resist including some of my favorite topics.

Anyone familiar with my instagram will recognize some baking disasters in Even Fairies Bake Mistakes.

 

I’m a huge Megan Rapinoe fan. She’s the inspiration behind Mermaid Midfielders.

 

They say write what you know and I KNOW I have a serious sweet tooth. That’s part of the fun in Quest for the Unicorn’s Horn. 

Meet the Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Are northern saw-whet owls the cutest birds in the world?

Maybe.

Earlier this year, my family adopted a northern saw-whet owl for me. I couldn’t wait to meet the little critters in person, plus participate in some community science. So I waited for the announcements from the National Aviary to join in Project Owlnet.

Unfortunately, the spring lockdown meant it was cancelled. But in the fall, we were able to join Project Owlnet while safely socially distancing outdoors.

We walked through dark woods to the mist nets that waited to catch the owls as safely and softly as possible. A recording of the saw-whet call, an insistent “toot, toot, toot” echoed through the trees. The owls are migrating south and don’t actually make noises as they fly. But the recording calls them low to the ground – why, researchers don’t exactly know. They wait in the net until we released them. We checked the nets frequently. The owls are about as big as an adult’s hand. But they are feisty. They snapped their beaks to scare us. But their big golden eyes were endearing and their soft feathers were irresistible.

We carried the owls back to the picnic table and took several measurements. We measured wing size, tail length, and estimated age by looking at wing feathers. We blew open feathers on their chest to measure fat tissue. We put them upside down in plastic cups to weigh them! All the owls we caught were big, for saw-whets, and were female. They were brave little ladies.

 

After recording all the data, we took turns stretching out our arms like tree branches, setting the owls on them, and watching them fly away. We quickly lost sight of them in the dark, but I’m sure they could see us perfectly.

Revisions

I’m chugging through revisions of The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci. This book is coming out fromNomad Press in May 2021)I really love all of the activities included in the book. I can’t wait to see readers try them and share their results!

Revisions can be hard, but how often in life do we get a chance to fix our mistakes? One of the reasons I love being a writer.

Do You Use a Standing Desk?

Do you use a standing desk? I’m trying out a new standing desk in my office.

I used to have a very tall craft desk. I thought I might stand to write, but I couldn’t stand for eight hours. I ended up buying a tall drafting chair so I could sit sometimes. Then I ended up sitting all of the time.

So when I bought this little standing desk, I did NOT buy a  TALL CHAIR.

I’m not sure it will be easy for actual writing, but when I’m researching – reading, taking notes, watching videos, listening to zoom lectures – I’m going to try to stand.

My new desk is adjustable and rolls around on wheels! I won’t be walking and writing though. If I want to do that, I can always pop down to the treadmill and put my laptop on an old shelf. I rest the shelf on the arms of the treadmill and get walking. That’s easiest when I’m watching videos.

 

Reading and Writing Against Bias

I’m so excited about an upcoming workshop that I’m taking through the Highlights Foundation. “DISMANTLING THE KALEIDOSCOPE: ESSENTIAL CONVERSATIONS IN KIDLIT, A VIRTUAL SYMPOSIUM 2020” will challenge participants to “talk about misrepresentations in books” and “develop action plans for resisting them.”

I’ve got all the books for the reading list. I can’t wait to learn and listen.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts!

  • A Phoenix First Must Burn Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope, edited by Patrice Caldwell (Viking)
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree Books)
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books)
  • Hands Up by Breanna McDaniel and Shane W. Evans (Dial Books)