Tech Tricks for Writers: Do Not Disturb

Don’t get distracted by phone calls, texts, or other notifications from your phone when you’re trying to write in the zone. If you have an iPhone, go to Settings, then scroll down to the third block of options and select “Focus.” You can set up times that you do not want to be disturbed.

You can create a custom message so people know why they aren’t able to reach you – but you can also choose certain people to reach you in an emergency.

If you are working on a Mac (like a laptop or desktop or iPad) you can share these settings across devices and get those words on the page without getting interrupted!!

(Bonus tip: teenage drivers, heck ANY driver, can set a do not disturb on their phone to minimize distractions.)

Tips for Travel to UK and Ireland

Our family recently traveled to the UK and Ireland. It was a trip we planned back in 2019 to see family and some soccer (football) destinations, but we had to delay it because of COVID, of course.

It was wonderful to catch up with everyone and visit some amazing places – but it has been 8 years since we were last in Ireland. A lot has changed!

Here are some things I learned on this trip:

  1. Contactless payment is everything. Get used to it and be ready to use it.
  2. In Ireland at least, there are open-air pay-t0-use laundry facilities, so you can pack light if you plan time for washing.
  3. Food trucks are big in London and very tasty.
  4. Manchester has an amazing amount of bubble tea shops.
  5. Liverpool has no bubble tea shops.
  6. Halloumi cheese is the option for vegetarians, and we found some great ways to enjoy it!
  7. If you notify servers of a food allergy, it will take much longer for your food. They will literally clean a preparation space and make your food separately. This is really helpful if the food allergy is especially serious, but you need to be prepared to wait.
  8. We found more helpful info on TripAdvisor than Yelp. Places still listed on Yelp were often shut down.
  9. Bring your own bags to shops and stores.
  10. Napkins are called serviettes, and they aren’t sitting out for you to grab as they are in the US.
  11. You’ll find many of the same chains as in the US, but menus will vary. For instance, no customized coffees at Starbucks.
  12. Food is served very hot.


One thing that hasn’t changed – British and Irish candy is much tastier than American.

My kids felt the accents weren’t hard to understand at all, probably because they watch a lot of British YouTubers. But my kids did face a lot of questions about guns from some young people. It was a tough topic for my kids. My kids felt that the young people didn’t understand the real stress, anxiety, and fear they face here in the U.S.

My kids enjoyed the candy, snacks, scenery and of course the 99s, those are ice cream cones with Flake bars. And they all said they couldn’t wait to go back again.


This is why I write books for young readers.

Tech Tricks for Writers: Voice Memos

Here’s another tech trick for writers! This one is about using Voice Memos. Voice Memos is an app on the iPhone. Other phones probably have a voice memo app, too. (I use an iPhone, so that’s the one I know!) I keep this app in the “Writing” folder on my Home Screen.

Voice Memos is hugely helpful for writers. One of the main ways I use Voice Memos is to quickly record thoughts when they are too long to quickly type.

Here’s another way to use Voice Memos, especially if you’re writing picture books. Picture books are meant to be read out loud. So when you’ve finished a picture book draft, open up that Voice Memos app and read it out loud.

Record yourself reading your manuscript. Then listen to the playback. As you listen, as yourself these questions:

  1. How do the words sound out loud? Are they confusing? Do you stumble?
  2. Is there rhythm? Is there alliteration?
  3. How long does it take to read your story? Is it taking too long?

If you want to take this to the next level, get your critique group involved. It can be stressful and scary to have someone read your book out loud while you are face to face, in person or over Zoom. So try this. Ask someone to read your book on their own and record it on Voice Memos and listen to how it sounds when THEY read it.


Hearing how your book sounds out loud is going to help you create a better version of this book. Have you ever used Voice Memos?

What is No Mow May?

What is No Mow May? It’s simple – don’t mow your lawn in May and give bees and pollinators a chance to find food. Grassy lawns are some of the worst things about habitat loss. So by not mowing we can give the non-grass plants a chance to bloom and nourish insects and birds.

I have a draft story about bees, and of course my new book Animal Allies is all about scientists who study wildlife with a goal of protecting different species. So it’s easy to see why we are fans of No Mow May.

Our family has decided to join in No Mow May to help bees and other pollinators. Want to find out more and mow less? Listen or read here!

Tech Tricks for Writers: Looking for Comps

Here’s a tech trick for writers who are looking for comps.

When you are querying a book with an agent or editor, it’s important to have good comps for your manuscript.

What is a comp? It’s a book, movie, or story that is a good comparison for your story. It’s telling an agent or editor, “If you liked Star Wars, you might like Dune.” We do this all the time when we recommend books to friends. Why is it always so much harder with our own books?

A second version of a comp is the “X meets Y” combo comp. It’s a chance to use two or more well-known stories, movies, or TV shows to describe elements of your story. Maybe your story is “The Repair Shop” meets “90210.” (OK I would read that.)

One way to find good comps is to consume tons of media. Watch and read it all. Then record the themes and major plot points of everything you read and watch so you can create a database of useful comps.

But if you don’t have endless time, one tech trick I use is the massive database of online book selling. I look for what other customers liked when they viewed a book I think is like mine.

On the big online seller website, type in a book you think is similar to yours. Then scroll way down past the sponsored ads to “Customers who viewed this item also viewed.”

Another place to get good ideas for comps is on Goodreads. Look up the book that is like yours, then look for the “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Your local library should also offer this feature when you look up books on their website.

Here is a big article called How to Find Compelling Comps from Jane Friedman that offers even more help on finding good comps for your next novel.

Practice comping some of your favorite books or movies in the comments below and share them!

Celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s Birthday!

On April 15, we can say Happy Birthday to Leonardo da Vinci! Let’s celebrate by being curious. One option, if you live in Pittsburgh, is to stop by Riverstone Bookstore in McCandless for a Think Like Leo challenge!


If you can’t get to Pittsburgh, then get a copy of the book and try out some of more than 20 different hands-on activities in The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci!