More tips for picky eaters!

Boy eating whole wheat bread

Boy cannot live on bread alone.

Looking for more tips for picky eaters? If you have a picky eater in your family, you are probably familiar with the feeling that you’re in the middle of a food fight. You’ve prepared food but your picky eater won’t try a bite. Let the battle of wills begin! But I found that getting into a food fight with my picky eater left us both feeling defeated and angry. I want my children to have a healthy, curious attitude about food. And I don’t like arguing at every meal. So I looked into ways to work with my picky eater.

One important change was the creation of My Food Notebook. Not only did it help my child remember what foods he had tried and liked, it helped me remember if he liked foods prepared a certain way or with a certain condiment, which we call a “Flavor Buddy.” I also did a lot of research on techniques to that make it easier for kids to try new foods. Some of those tips are available here. But if you need additional ideas, here are five more tips to help create a win-win situation at your dinner table, too.

 

More Tips for Picky Eaters

1. Family Style – Instead of giving each person the same size serving and preparing plates in the kitchen, bring your food to the dinner table in family style bowls or platters and let your dining companions, young and old, choose the size of their serving. You may be surprised how many vegetables your children consume when they are allowed to serve themselves. And for those picky eaters, starting with a smaller portion is a lot less intimidating that facing a huge mound of spinach.

2. Choices – Whenever possible, I offer two or more vegetable choices at our family style dinners. I remind my children that a healthy meal includes some protein, some carbohydrates and a large serving of produce, then I let them choose. I highlight the nutritional benefits of each vegetable in language my kids can understand. We talk about Vitamin A in carrots and how it helps your eyes and Vitamin C in sweet potatoes and how it helps you fight off germs. But giving them a choice usually means they will eat more of their chosen food than if I have forced them to eat a certain vegetable.

3. Sticks – Putting food on sticks is like waving a magic wand for many picky eaters. Foods on sticks, whether it’s a kebob stick, a toothpick, or a really cute bento box mini-fork seems to make trying that food so much more fun.

4. Faces and fun – Since kids eat with their eyes and many children prefer to touch their food before putting it in their mouths, I often let them create faces and have a little fun with certain foods. Especially if we’re building a salad, creating a little monster face or cartoon character out of the salad ingredients can take the pressure off of trying new foods.

5. Be consistent –  There will be times when your picky eater is completely resistant to all tactics. Maybe they just aren’t hungry or aren’t in the mood to have fun. That happens here, too. But we don’t let our kids off the hook, they are required to have one bite of a vegetable – any vegetable they choose – at dinner. We call it our hop-down bite. You can’t hop-down from the table until you’ve taken the bite. And we never waver on this rule. Stick to it and the arguments and testing will fade. Do not give in. Not even once.

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

Once you’ve started using these tips to work with your picky eater, don’t forget to keep track of the foods they’ve tried in your very own copy of My Food Notebook. And let us know what foods become favorites – or not.

Check out MORE tips for picky eaters here!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s almost November! And you know what that means? NaNoWriMo 2014!

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is only a few days away and I’m itching to get started. I had two ideas in mind for this month’s project.

Project Ideas

1. “Sweetie” is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in Depression-Era Baltimore.

-or-

2. “Buyer Beware” tells the story of a self-centered middle school boy finds an old iPod at a flea market that gives him the ability to hear people’s thoughts.

I asked my kids and they voted unanimously for Story Idea #2. Which one would you like to read?

How will I prepare?

Once I’ve settled on my project idea, I’ll work off an outline. I’ve already laid out the basic 15 beats for Buyer Beware based on what I learned from the wonderful Save the Cat workshop presented by novelist Jessica Brody. So that pre-work is done. If I go with Sweetie, I’ll have to take the time in the next few days to lay out those 15 beats.

Preparation also includes clearing my calendar of all unnecessary lunch and coffee dates, setting times for workouts that don’t interrupt the whole day, and making sure that I note which days I have to go over the recommended daily word count. We will be traveling in November and I’m attending the WPA SCBWI conference this month, so there will be several days when it will be really hard to hit my word count goals.

What’s my plan?

I’d like to hit 2,000 words a day in the first two weeks. That means “BICFOK” or “butt in chair, fingers on keys” will be my mantra. I’ll shove that inner editor aside and work to tell the story. I’ll rely on dialogue a lot, because that tends to be my strong point. I’ll also see if I can add in some character-development scenes, setting description scenes, and work to include sensory information that I often leave out of first drafts. I’m not trying to do these things just for word count but also to strengthen my first drafts and think about including elements that make a good story right from the beginning.

Are you tackling NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your story idea? Good luck!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Find An Agent For My Novel

critique groups

Drafts & Revisions

Earlier this year, I finished the first draft of my middle novel, Dare Club. Once the draft was done, I dedicated the rest of the year to revision and to find an agent for my novel.

I knew that it would be tough to find an agent for my novel wasn’t going to be easy and would need the strongest possible manuscript, which is why revision was a huge part of ths. In order to tackle the revision process, I downloaded Kate Messner’s book Real Revision. I attended a writing retreat hosted by the Western PA region of SCBWI. I worked online with Margo Dill, a.k.a Editor 911. And I put in hours at my desk and laptop alone.

With revision underway, I needed to get out there and meet agents, both in real life and online. In May, I attended the Pennwriters Conference and pitched to four different agents. At the writing retreat, I put my first chapters in front of an editor. In September, I participated in Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars and in her Twitter-based #PitMad party.

And I crossed my fingers.

And somewhere along the line I realized how pitching and revision go hand in hand when it comes to writing the best possible book and in the search to find an agent for my novel. When I wanted to really hone in on the essence of my story and create a compelling pitch, I thought long and hard about if the 50,000 words on the pages actually told that story.

I sent my queries out there and posted my pitches on Twitter and got some interesting, thoughtful feedback that will help me revise even more and hopefully help me not just find any agent for my novel but to find an agent for my novel that is the right one. 

Have you ever sent a query out? And gotten a rejection back? I’ve received tons of rejections but I thought I’d share the ones relevant to my novel here.

Rejection 1: “Thanks so much for sending your novel along and for your patience while I considered it.  I’m sorry but I’ve decided to pass.  I think the concept is really strong, but I wasn’t drawn in by the writing, which felt a little too young in a way.”

Rejection 2: “Thank you for the opportunity to consider DARE CLUB. Though I really love this premise and you show a lot of talent as an author, I didn’t quite buy into the relationship between Tony, Inky, and Mara—the dynamic felt, at times, a tad too flat, and I’d like to have known more about Mara in particular. I am afraid that I don’t have the vision for this project—but I wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and a publisher for DARE CLUB. It’s a great premise, and with the right editorial guidance I think you could have something here.”

Rejection 3: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to choose DARE CLUB. In this case it really came down to voice, and I just wasn’t personally connecting.”

Rejection 4: “Thank you for sharing your Pitch Wars entry with me! I received a lot of submissions, and unfortunately, I didn’t choose yours to mentor.I really enjoyed your entry, which made this a tough decision! You’ve got great MG voice, strong writing, and an intriguing concept. I think the one thing I wanted more of was Tony. He’s narrating the story, but I couldn’t get a good grip on who he was as a person (besides the fact that he likes challenges and hates his nickname). It might help to add a few more thoughts/emotions on his part as he narrates in order to shed more light on him as a character — things that give insight into his family, things he likes to do, other friends, pets, goals/desires (aside from getting to know Mara better, that is! ;) You definitely don’t want to info-dump this kind of thing, but just adding a little here and there as it relates to the conversation or Tony’s observations would help flesh out his character. I hope that helps! I definitely think you should query this (if you haven’t already started), and enter it into some more contests. You should also consider doing the #pitmad pitch party on Twitter on the 9th–you’ve got a great hook, which is a must-have to get agent attention in 140 characters. :) Best of luck to you.”

Something amazing just happened as I read those rejections in the process of posting them here to help inspire fellow writers to keep working on their dream novel. I felt inspired again. I wanted to let other writers know that rejections aren’t always filled with negative comments or with cursory dismissals. Rejections can help, especially when the agent or editor provides a useful critique! I know that’s rare enough these days so these kinds of rejections should be treasured all the more.

I’m still trying to find an agent for my novel. And I’m not giving up yet!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Too Many Critique Groups?

critique groups

Drafts & Revisions

Are you a in a critique group? I am – actually three critique groups! I think critique groups are truly invaluable to any serious writer and not just for works of fiction.

I meet regularly with a friend I met through NaNoWriMo (coming very soon!) to discuss non-fiction queries, article ideas and fiction ideas. We also discuss whether certain writing contests are worth the effort. Having a writer friend as a sounding board is a great asset, and it helps when the writing friend has a different approach than you.

In addition to meeting with my friend, I also meet regularly with two formal critique groups but both have different vibes.

Last summer I learned about the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Editors and attended their summer “critique-nic.” This picnic plus critique group combined my love of food and writing perfectly and following that event I joined an SCWBI critique group in Cranberry. This has been my most successful, continual critique group ever. We have a great chemistry and really work hard to help each other produce our best work.

Joining this SCWBI group has kept me on task and provided good moral support. This group was especially helpful after I had a negative experience at a writing retreat and was accused of being a rude, harsh, inexperienced critiquer. (I’ll have to share more about this story later.) After the retreat, I returned to my familiar group and shared my unhappy story. They reassured me it was probably a misunderstanding or a just a really negative person. This group is a great mix of writers with diverse experience, too. I definitely want to be in this group.

After attending – and loving – my first Penn Writers conference, I learned about a critique group very convenient to my neighborhood and requested to join. I was pretty surprised to learn I had to audition to join this group! I sent off my writing sample and felt very lucky to be accepted. They keep a strict six-person membership limit and while the group meets for an epic 5 hours once a month, they work very hard to give detailed feedback and stay on topic.

I’ve had one meeting with this group and found it to be really engaging and informative. I’m excited to bring my MG novel “Dare Club” and work on revisions with the help of this group. Each person is writing something so different, I also feel like I will learn a lot from each of their works. I definitely want to be in this group, too!

There’s a third critique group that’s still in the growing stages trying to meet every other Wednesday at  Coffee Buddha, a coffee shop also in my neighborhood. Growing a critique group can be pretty hard when people haven’t made the commitment to clear the space on their calendar and prioritize being there. New critique groups are always working out who the leader is, how many people are needed to meet, how often to meet and working to build a comfort level with each other. This is probably the hardest one for me to commit to, since it’s still growing. But I feel responsible for it some reason!

I think two critique groups plus a writing mentor is enough, but three is too many. But I can’t let go of the guilt of abandoning a group of writers looking for support in their community!

Do you belong to one or more critique groups? What’s the best part? What’s the worst?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Banned Books – Is it ever worth it?

How do you feel about banned books? I’m pretty opposed to banning books. I don’t think every book should be read, but I don’t think anything good can come of trying to ban books. In fact, I have a lovely coffee mug from Book Riot via Quarterly featuring the titles of banned books.

I’ve heard Ellen Hopkins speak at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference and her books have been banned. I read her first one, Crank, and it stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings in me as a parent. And I’m glad I read it.

My mom sent me an email recently about a book that was taken off the reading list for high schoolers in Delaware. The book is The Miseducation of Cameron Post Emily M. Danforth. The school board voted 6-1 to take the book off the summer reading list for incoming freshmen because of the F-word in the book. The school board also claims it removed the book from the summer reading list but did not ‘ban’ the book or remove it from school libraries. Other groups claim the book was removed because the main character, a young woman, is gay. Opponents to the ban (let’s just call it that) say other books with similar language weren’t taken off the list – just this one about the lesbian.

In response to the removal of this book, free copies are being given away to any high school student in Delaware with proof of identification! A free book – a free award-winning, critically-praised book! Oh to be young and in high school again!

There’s also an essay contest sponsored by local libraries on the theme of “what school board members should know about this book.” I can imagine some heartfelt personal essays.

I’ve read books that were at some point banned. I’ve read great books that were banned, and stupid books that should have been banned because they made me dumber.

I, too, am a little freaked out at the thought of my 13-year old reading the F-word. But I know he’s already heard the word. And he’s going to hear it many, many more times in his life. I want to protect my kid, too. But I don’t think I’m protecting him if I hide books – or real life – from him. I think I’m best protecting him by helping him process the difficult things he’s going to encounter in life.

But in my opinion, banning a book just makes it more exciting to read the book. That kind of reverse psychology works all the time with my kids. And it works with adults, too! Make something illegal (Prohibition,anyone?) and everyone wants it!!

 

Have you ever opposed a book banning?

What’s your favorite banned book? 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Picture Book Workshop and Manuscript Submission

In June, I attended a picture book workshop hosted by my local SCBWI chapter and led by editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. In addition to the picture book workshop, Harold and Eileen provided manuscript critiques and tips on revision.

I submitted my story Mission: Compostable! for critique. Harold gave generally positive critique and suggested I add some factual back matter to the story when I submit it to the several science publishers he recommended.

The workshop was really helpful for picture books but also in telling stories in novel format. And after this workshop, I finally took the plunge and submitted my novel manuscript (Dare Club) to the agents I had met at Pennwriters Conference in May. Wish me luck!

At the workshop, Harold brought up one of my favorite online fun-and-games tools – Wordle – and showed us how it could play a part in manuscript revision. Wordle creates a visual word map from the text you paste into the comment field. For a picture book, you could probably paste in the complete manuscript. I grabbed a few pages from my novel and pasted in the text. Here’s one result:

manuscript revision tool

The larger words are used more often. It would be really bad if your picture book manuscript had the word “said” as the largest word in the Wordle. I hope it’s a good sign that my main characters names’ are super-huge words. It’s funny (maybe in a worrisome way?) that the word “dare” is so small in the bottom-middle-left, in a faint grey color.

Harold and Eileen also suggested some great books for writers, including Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul and Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen, and Writing Picture Books for Children. I have yet to read them, but I do read lots of picture books night after night to my boys.

What fun revision techniques do you use on your manuscript?

What are your favorite books for writers about writing?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writers Rejection Slips

writers rejection slips

Hurts so good?

Do you keep track of your writers rejection slips? Way, way back when I first started submitting my short stories to literary magazines, I kept a big file full of all my writers rejection slips. Since I followed the advice of all the big writers’ advice magazines, I was sending out stories to ten different journals at time, so my collection of rejection slips grew pretty rapidly.

I had better luck with my non-fiction writing back then and landed a stringer position at a small neighborhood newsletter. I took a small break to learn how to manage being the mom of three kids, and then went back to writing full steam ahead. I quit my day job, started my own business and got down to work.

My collection of writers rejection slips is still growing, but now it’s online. For instance, you can see the list of writers rejection slips on my Submittable account to the left.

One of my writing mentors once said she doesn’t even keep track of rejections, she just moves on the next submission. I believe that’s good advice for people who get hung up and slowed down by rejections, but I need to keep track of where I’ve submitted and what stories I’ve submitted.

So in addition to Submittable I keep a small notebook on my desk and jot down queries, pitches and submissions by month. Then I go back and indicate when each submission was accepted or rejected.

Sure, l’m still receiving writers rejection slips. But my acceptances are also growing.

And I’m actually ok with keeping track of these rejections for at least one reason: they are real proof that I am living my promise to myself to be a professional writer. Many people write as a hobby, or journal to keep track of their lives. But I am a professional writer. I make my living on words. And every rejection is a little badge of the bravery and effort it took to think of an idea that might work, put in the time to research it and write it, send it off to the editor, and face their possible scorn and derision – or their surprise and delight!

I really believe it’s true that you are not going to get acceptances before getting a serious number of rejections. And I also have noticed that I’m learning a lot more from my rejections. In more instances, editors are taking the time to note specifically why they didn’t chose some of my works. That helps a lot.

In the spirit of looking for the silver lining around writers rejection slips, I recently submitted a short essay about one of my most painful rejections to Cairn Press. The editors there are putting together an anthology on rejections, and I loved that they acknowledged that they would have to reject some of the rejection stories. Like pouring salt in the wound.

Do you keep track of your rejections?

Have you learned anything from a rejection?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Regional dialect and writing

dialect writing

Porgy

Does your story require writing in a regional dialect? I recently finished reading two books, Porgy and The Owl Service, that I believe were dependent on regional dialect to truly convey the stories and characters.

Last year, I picked up Porgy after I heard an interview on Fresh Air with one of the performers in the current stage revival of Porgy and Bess. I had never seen the musical and didn’t know the story, but the discussion about the various characters in the story intrigued me. The book thrilled me. The characters were fully developed, their needs and wants were clear and the obstacles they had to face were believable. Also, the dialect helped transport me to another world and often helped indicate the balance of power in the story, especially in situations where the blacks in Catfish Row spoke with the white police detectives.

 

 

 

dialect and writing

The Owl Service

This past month I finished The Owl Service. It was on the list of 100 books all 11-year olds should read as compiled by Philip Pullman. This book was a challenge for me! While I adore weaving ancient legend into modern life, I admit the ending was a bit over my head. I didn’t quite get it, probably because I don’t know the Welsh legends as well as I should. But I did love trying to come to grips with the Welsh dialogue. It was just as stimulating and challenging as the dialogue in Porgy. And the confusing tenses and vague word usage of the native Welsh also confused the wealthier English characters in the story. Language and dialect again revealed tension and inequalities in power.

Both novels needed that unique way of speaking to be conveyed to really transport the reader into that special world of the particular story.

I’m working on a vignette or ultra-flash fiction story about a teenager in love with a zombie. I’ve received some excellent feedback and critiques, including the fact that I need to incorporate more teenager dialect. Since there are at least two decades between me and my teenage experience, I am thinking I either need to hang out at the mall more (do teens still do that?) or watch more teen tv. The problem is I don’t really have time for either, to be honest.

If you want, or need, to incorporate dialect into your story, how do you find it? And how do you capture it?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Your Truth

Back in February, I attended the SCWBI Winter Conference. When people in my critique group, or other writers that I know online ask me how I felt about the conference, I answer that I felt both elated and deflated. I learned a lot, but I was also reminded that I had a lot more to learn.

One session that stood out for me in particular was the late Saturday juxtaposition of Elizabeth Wein’s talk on authorial responsibility followed by Ellen Hopkins and her fight against censorship.

In brief, Elizabeth Wein talked about her books and their reliance on information covered by the Official Secrets Act. She talked about carefully considering what you write and how it might impact readers. She told an anecdote about how a family listening on to her book tape was crying so bad, they were pulled over and the officer thought he had discovered a domestic violence situation. Wein wondered if she had any blame for how readers experienced her stories.

Ellen Hopkins tackled the same question but offered a different answer. “Write your truth,” she stated. She almost demanded it of the audience. She argued that if her stories, and her first book is based on her own daughter’s addiction to meth, saved just one reader then writing your truth was worth it.

These women spoke differently, acted differently. I also wondered if they asked different things of their audience (a roomful of mostly hopeful, some experienced) writers.

I’m against censorship when it’s imposed on all readers, all books, an entire society as a whole, by one small group of people with opinions.

But on the other hand, I personally make selections about what topics and stories I choose to consume. I make choices about what stories I’ll read. No violent horror for me, thanks. Or ghost stories. Not even a big fan of crime mysteries.

Listening to these two dedicated, talented storytellers state their positions made me wonder about what claim, if any, authors have over their readers reactions.

As writers we are asked to imagine the reader we are writing for. Experienced writers, publishers, agents often tell us to have a clear image of our reader in our heads: what they look like, how they spend their day, what they love, what they hate. But what happens to that reader after they read our works?

In March, I attended a meeting at Creative Mornings Pittsburgh and listened to Siobhan Viviane talk about her writing for young girls. In her opinion, her readers explore possibilities, actions and consequences, vicariously through what her books. I asked her if she ever thought about her authorial responsibility, if she should write something, just because she could write it. Since I haven’t yet read any of her books, I didn’t know if the actions of her characters would inspire girls in negative or positive ways. I wondered how/if her writing impacted young women and their beliefs or choices.

And on an even younger note, my husband kind of hates the Junie B. Jones books because Junie B. models bad language and often poor behavior choices. Is she to blame, or is Barbara Park to blame, if our son copies those actions of a character he thinks is pretty cool?

If our story helps a reader, do we get to take credit?

If our story hurts a reader, do we have to assume the blame?

Can you have it one way but not the other? If you accept one way, are you also accepting the other?

I’m truly asking. I don’t know the answer, or if there is an answer.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Word Count

One of my favorite parts of NaNoWriMo is the word count widget. I love feeding my daily total into the widget and seeing the graph jump up, seeing the daily words increase, seeing the decrease in words per day to finish on time.

I lost my first NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but won in both 2012 and 2013. I think that seeing the word count on a daily basis and setting a reasonable goal to accomplish each day makes me a more productive writer. It helps me finish drafts.

So when I wanted to tackle the big idea I had for a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a young adult novel, I asked my wonderful husband to help me create my own word count widget in Numbers. It helped me get to 50,000 in the first draft of that project.

word count

Starting off right

I’m at the beginning of a new project now, a middle grade fiction story that I’m preparing for a writing retreat with an editor at the end of April. Of course I pulled out my homemade word count tool and started entering my daily achievements.

As you can see, it was slow starting but I’ve made up some of the difference and I am currently on pace. There will be days when I’m busy and won’t hit my daily goal of 1667 words a day, but as long as I can keep track of my progress and really see for myself how the word count is building, I’ll keep plugging away and won’t get discouraged.

I think running may have something to do with why the word count tool helps me complete a project. I’ve gotten used to daily workouts contributing to the success of a larger goal. I know that it’s important to put the work in every day and that keeping track of what you’ve done – and not done- helps with accountability and feelings of success.

Do you work towards a daily word count? Does that make you a more effective writer or does it feel like you’re imposing an artificial goal on your current project?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.