Organizing Your Thoughts As a Writer

I had a great time presenting at the Outdoor Discovery Center at Crooked Creek in February. I spoke to an audience of both teens and parents, and I think it was a really interesting mix of perspectives. The teens had a lot of questions about writing and animals, and the adults even had some questions about writing! I was thrilled because many times, adults want to try writing but aren’t sure how to start.

One adult asked me a great question. She asked, “Do you have a specific way for organizing your thoughts?”

I loved this because I think writing can be overwhelming, and any kind of organization can make things easier. If I don’t use some kind of method, I would lose track of a lot of the things I’ve written.

Here’s what I suggested:

  1. Use headings. These headings are the category of the kind of writing you’re doing at that moment. Whether you use a notebook or type notes on your phone or computer, give each page or file a category, like “emotions and feelings” or “memories” or “dialogue.” Other headings can be “life event” or “questions to answer.”
  2. Create a table of contents for your notebooks. That means reserving the first few pages of every notebook to jot down page numbers and the headings (and longer description if desired) of the content of those pages.
  3. Date your entries. I always try to date my handwritten notes. Luckily my computer or smartphone automatically dates my entries. But be careful -when you edit a file, the dates will be updated! You can always check the dates of previous versions of a file by using the “revert” feature.

These are some of the ways I organize my thoughts before I start writing the actual book.

If I had more time to talk with this person, I’d go into discussions about outline and using Scrivener. I use this software for keeping track of characters, timelines, locations, outlines, and drafts.

But if she wanted to know more about how I organized my approach to interviewing scientists for Animal Allies, I’d talk to her about my prepared questions, recording our calls, and taking notes while talking.

So now I want to know how you organize your thoughts when you’re getting ready to write! What are your favorite methods – or are you more of a freeform writer? Do you use prompts? Color-coding? Binders???

ideas for stories, organizing ideas for writing

Tools of the Trade

Tech Tips for Writers: Historical Weather and a Research Challenge

When you’re writing a story, setting is key. And weather is a part of the story. It’s valuable in nonfiction, historical fiction, or any story. When I write about the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, it’s important for me to note it was snowing in April.

But how do I know that? How can I find out?

I used to use the app Dark Sky, but this app has been integrated into Apple Weather. So now, if I need historic weather information, I turn to Weather Underground.

On the desktop website, enter the city where your story takes place, click on “history” and enter the date you need.

But Weather Underground only goes back to the 1930.

A Research Challenge

So let’s say we are writing about the Johnstown Flood, which happened on May 31, 1889. There is a lot of information online about the weather on the day of the floor. But our story starts one week before the flood. What was the weather like on May 24, 1889?

Can you figure this out? I haven’t been able to find easy to access historical weather data for this specific date. If you can find it, share your results!

Johnstown today

Johnstown in 2018

Memorial to the unidentified lost in the flood

Near where the South Fork Dam was

What Your First Bird of 2023 Means for Your Year

The start of a new year is fun for birders like me – it means I can count and celebrate seeing birds for the first time that year!! Lots of birders love to celebrate their first bird of the year, and every year the American Birding Association picks a bird of the year. (The Bird of the Year for 2023 is the Belted Kingfisher!)

Do you remember the first bird you saw in 2023? Think hard because I believe that first bird sets the tone for your year. Mine was a Carolina Chickadee, a friendly and sociable bird. I’m thrilled it was my first bird! Here’s a little guide to what your first bird means for 2023.


Take the Quiz! What Kind of Wildlife Scientist Are You?

What kind of wildlife scientist would YOU want to be? Take the quiz and find out!





Animal Allies is an NSTA Best Book of 2022!

I’m so excited to share that Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Science is an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 chosen by the National Science Teaching Association!!

@elizpagelhoganauthor Thank you to the NSTA!! #science #sciencetok #scienceteacher #scienceteachersoftiktok #books #booksoftiktok #kidsbooks #kidlit #stembooks #Canva ♬ Inspirational Epic – Yevhen Lokhmatov

Have You Ever Seen A Saw-Whet Owl?

Every fall in North America, saw-whet owls migrate south. Project Owlnet is a community science program that gathers data on this tiny, adorable, and angry owls. We are lucky to have a Project Owlnet location nearby and each fall, our family goes to volunteer and help capture, band, and release the birds. I recently put up a video of our 2022 experience.

Here’s Part 1: On a moonlit night in November… 

Part 2: How many owls in the net?

Part 3: You won’t believe how we weigh them!

Part 4: Let them fly!

boy holding a saw-whet owl

Animal Allies is a finalist for the Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World

I’m so excited to announce that Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research is a finalist for the Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World presented by the SCBWI Impact and Legacy Fund. The Russell Freedman award is given to a work of nonfiction that contributes to our understanding of how to make our world and society better.


Here is the full list of finalists. These are incredible books written by talented authors, and I’m honored to be on the list. The winning book and honor book will be announced December 1, 2022, so stay tuned!

-Patricia Newman—A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn

-Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan—Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research

-Chana Stiefel—The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs

-Jetta Grace Martin—Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party

-Madison Furr—The Little Book of Joy

-Rebecca Hirsch—Where Have All the Birds Gone? Nature in Crisis

-Marc Zimmer—Science and the Skeptic: Discerning Fact from Fiction

-Marta Magellan—Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor, Primatologist

-Sara Echenique—Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente

-Nell Cross Beckerman—When the Sky Glows

-Kathlyn Kirkwood—Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of the Making of Martin Luther King Day

Is Canva Pro worth it for writers?

There are so many things to think about when writing books. Character, plot, setting, voice, POV, tense, adverbs, cliffhangers, villains, heroes, and more!!! But once you get the story written, the manuscript sold, and the book published (easy peasy) then comes the hard work of getting the word out about your book and connecting with your audience. That’s where social media comes in. You need a website and accounts on a few platforms so you can share good news. But you can’t just post some words and hope people like your content. You need to get creative. You need to attract attention. You’re right back at the beginning of writing that story – you need to hook people!

I’m a pretty basic social media poster, I snap a photo and share it. My friend asked me what I’ve shared on my stories lately. My what?

But I did start one new thing, I got Canva Pro.

To test it out, I decided to have some fun with my favorite photo subject, Beckham the dog. We bought Beckham some new ties to wear for Homecoming, and he looked so good I snapped some shots. Then I learned how to delete the background of the original photo and placed Beckham in some silly backgrounds. I shared these photos on my Insta, FB, and Twitter, and asked people which one they liked best. Can you guess which one people picked?


If you said Beckham in the Board Room, you’re right. It was pretty easy to create all of these on my iPhone.

So, is Canva Pro worth it?

I would say yes, Canva Pro is worth it in terms of fun. I need to think about how to use it to do a better job of sharing my books with readers. I’m not a public relations professional, graphic designer, or marketing expert.

If you have ideas on how I can use Canva Pro to be more creative and make people smile, laugh, and check out my books, let me know!