Write Anywhere

I will write anywhere. You never know when inspiration will strike.I usually carry a little notebook with me and I always have my phone and my laptop. I used to have a small bluetooth keyboard by Zagg that made it easy for me to type on my phone fast. It was wonderful for when I was somewhere with small surfaces. I could also type without pulling out my giant laptop, so it didn’t attract as much attention. It died, so I got a new one. My middle and my youngest are in writing club this winter and they want to work on their stories at random times. My middle likes to type right before bed. The youngest recently worked on his story using my mini-keyboard while we were waiting for our food at Chili’s.

When you’re a writer, you write anywhere, any way you can.

 

Rejections and Acceptances in Writing 2018

I like to keep track of my writing rejections and acceptances by year. Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated, just knowing I have submitted ideas, stories, and projects gives me a boost.

I use Numbers to track my submissions, but I also use an old-fashioned paper notebook. The paper notebook might be my good luck charm, like an athlete who won’t change socks after a winning game.

My submissions are usually a mix of old ideas and new ones. I like to have a big fat pipeline of stories in production and swirling around in the publishing universe. I really believe you can’t sell if you’re not submitting.

Submissions

Let’s take a look at my submissions for 2018.

A grand total of 126 submissions is pretty good! I had the chance to work on a project for teachers that totaled 11 different submissions, so that boosted the number. Also, I pitched a bunch of greeting card ideas this year, I think about a dozen. But I only counted each email as one pitch. So the number could go even higher.

If you add the rejections and acceptances, you might notice it doesn’t equal 126. That’s because most of the time, I just don’t hear back from places. I could assume those are rejections, but one time I received an acceptance over a year after I had submitted something! So I usually just leave it blank until I hear back.

I also completed one ghostwriting project in 2018 and will complete another in 2019. I could count those as “acceptances.”

In total last year, I had a 20% acceptance rate. That feels very good. I feel very confident when I send some stories out to my favorite magazines. But I also signed a deal for my first non-fiction book that will come out in fall 2019. That felt amazing.

A Busy Year

Here’s how my work looked month to month.


My busiest month in 2018 was November, and I didn’t submit anything in February or June.

I’d like to change that this year and try to submit something every month, even if it’s only one thing. So far, so good on that goal in 2019. I already have 21 submissions. I’m bummed to report I also already have six rejections. But that also means I have six stories that could work somewhere else! Revise! Repurpose! Resubmit!

 

Do you keep track of your submissions? Rejections? Acceptances?

You can see my other yearly recap here.

 

Children’s Illustration Class

I’m taking a children’s illustration class and it’s scary.

It’s class hosted by our local arts center, the North Hills Center for the Arts.

The teacher isn’t scary.

Our instructor is Jeanine Murch and she does some lovely work! I’m especially excited to learn about lettering from her.

The other people in the class aren’t scary. In fact, my friends Beth and Jessica are in the class.

What’s scary is that I don’t have any confidence in myself as an illustrator. I love to doodle and draw and feel I’ve painted and sketched a few nice things lately. But I haven’t achieved something that feels like an illustration to me. I want to create something COOL.

What if I can’t do it?

Do It Anyway

Our homework for next week is to bring in a two page spread that illustrates either a story from a list Jeanine provided, or illustrates something of our own. I have an idea of a story of my own that I might tackle, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it looks better in my mind than it will on the page.

A lot the art I create feels very static, like a photograph capturing an image. But for illustration, I want there to be action and emotion. I want an illustration that tells a story.

I’m pretty confident about my writing. When I go into workshops, I feel connected with words and my ability to craft a sentence that evokes emotions and tells a story. But can I do this with art? I’m just not sure.

It’s ok to be scared, though. Taking this class will be good for me, because if you don’t ask questions, you can’t learn new things.

I’m glad that in addition to this class, I’m also doing #kidlitart28 because having the daily task to create some art is keeping me honest.

In addition to me learning about illustration for myself, I do hope that this class will help me as RA for our SCBWI region. I want to do my best to support all of our members, not just writers.

It’s scary trying something new like this, but I’m going through with it because I know it won’t hurt me. I know I will learn a ton. I may even find that I can create something I’m proud of in the end!

 

 

Creative Boost: Visiting a Haunted Library

I like trying new things, they give me a creative boost. I think it’s essential to get out of my comfort zone so I can think about the world differently, learn about new perspectives, and be more creative in general.

One small way I learn about new things is to visit new places. Sometimes I travel big, like going to new countries. Sometimes it’s small, like going to a new library in my larger community.

That’s why in January I grabbed some writing friends and visited a new-to-me but old library, the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library in Bellevue, PA for a creative boost.

It’s technically called the Andrew Bayne Memorial library, and is named after a sheriff of Allegheny County, Andrew Bayne. His daughters donated the building. I read an article online that it was haunted, and I wanted to give it a visit. I’m not really a ghost story lover, and I do but don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve done some reading about the ghosts at Jean Bonnet tavern on the turnpike, and started – but couldn’t finish – the ghost tour at the Omni Bedford Springs.

But I wanted to check this place out. One of my friends apparently worked as a ghost hunter for a short time and was convincingly skeptical, so I wasn’t really nervous while I was there.

It really felt like a library in someone’s house. It reminded me so much of the house we lived in while we were in Brighton Heights. The tall ceilings, the wonky-aligned doors. The gorgeous stairs and stained glass windows. It really is beautiful.

The librarian greeted us the moment we stepped in, and that made it beautiful, too. I had a wonderful time visiting the building but I’ll be honest, I didn’t get much writing done. My friends and I spent a lot of time chatting, but to be fair, we chatted about writing.

I did not see the ghost of Amanda Bayne Balph, who is supposedly haunting the building since a massive elm tree nicknamed “The Lone Sentinel” was taken down in 1998. Perhaps all of the talking scared her off.

Bonus Creative Boost

I did discover this poster listing 100 words every ninth grader should know. My eighth grader did not know all of them, so I have to plan to get him, me, and a dictionary together to learn some new words. Learning about new words is a great creative boost, so this was an unexpected bonus!

learn new words

Going to a new library and breaking myself out of my routine was helpful and keeps me from thinking things always have to be the way I’m used to seeing them. Meeting new people, trying new things, visiting new places is a great way to boost creativity.

How do you get out of your routine?

How do you stretch your creativity and imagination?

Kids Writing Club in 2019

When I was in seventh grade, I got permission from my teacher to produce a literary magazine at my school. Me and several other kids typed up stories and poems and then I ran off copies on a mimeograph machine, the kind with the purple ink that people loved to smell.

This year, I’m revisiting my childhood and starting a kids writing club at our elementary school. Thankfully I have a partner, our school librarian. She’s awesome and loves supporting reading and writing activities. We’re going to meet once a week and write, revise, and share stories. At the end of the club, we’ll have a book of stories. The kids don’t know it yet, but a local bookstore has even offered to host a book signing for them.

I’m pretty excited and I hope the kids who sign up are excited, too.

But before the club starts, I’m looking for suggestions on things that would be great to do in the club and things that would be awful.

So, did you belong to a kids writing club or creative writing club when you were a kid?

Do you wish you did?

What would advice would you give me?

Get Story Ideas by Brainstorming

I get story ideas in wonderful places. Listening to people talk, watching the news, listening to songs.

Another way I get story ideas is from other writers. I have a lot of fun working as a writing coach. I work with a young man who wants to write some scary, scary stories. He loves Stephen King and Five Nights at Freddy’s and all things gory. He’s working on a story for a program and he’ll apply in the fall. I think he has a shot, his ideas are really good.

I met my coachee this weekend and he’s working on a new story. The beginning of the story is a classic. Teens have to housesit and mansion and…

When he shared this idea with me, and I read his very exciting beginning paragraph, I knew this could be good. But I wanted to make sure he didn’t write the same old story. I mean, this is the premise of Scream. And Jumanji. And Cat in the Hat.

“So what makes your story one that only you can tell?” I asked him.

This made him think. Then to help him along with some unique ideas, we took turns brainstorming. I don’t want to share his MOST AMAZING idea here because it’s so good I hope you get it at a bookstore and maybe see it in the movies some day.

This kind of brainstorming is a great way to get story ideas.

I thought it would be fun to practice this story brainstorming here on the blog.

Teens have to house sit a mansion and…

Me: discover it’s the landing spot for an alien invasion.

Ceil Kessler: …trigger a switch by accident, revealing the hidden laboratory of a mad/evil scientist.

Victorria Johnson Wytcherley: Find that the house is sentient and provides for those who promise to upkeep it

Kit Fox: They say no, because they are volunteering to feed homeless teens so the mansion owner surprises them by taking in all the homeless teens as housesitters and they have a big party and eat all the food and the owner doesn’t go to Andorra, which means she’s not skiing when the avalanche happens so being generous literally saves her life and everyone learns a valuable lesson.

Diane Matway: Find the mansion has contained with it a certain magic to create peace and safety again. Three silver bells hold the answers…

So how would your story end?

Writing Puns is Fun

I love writing puns and I love writing with puns. Over Thanksgiving, I brought a new game to play with my family called Punderdome. I found this game at Riverstone Books, my favorite local bookstore. I’m very lucky that the family was willing to give it a try, even my 13 year old son got into it! The game is simple. In round 1, everyone tries to guess the answer to a pun. I was not too shabby at that part. For example, what’s the most disgusting store to shop at? A grocery store!

In round 2, the judge deals out 2 cards with categories and the players try to make a pun combining the two.

For example, one of my answers for “Star Wars” and “Winning” was “Yoda Man!” Too bad I didn’t come up with that answer until after the game.

I use a lot of puns in my writing. I used puns in my story “The Pepper Caper,” published in Highlights for Children (September 2017). I have several drafts of manuscripts that incorporate lots of puns.

There’s always thyme for some puns.

People say puns are lowest form of humor, and one reason is because word play is one of the first kinds of humor that children can understand. But that’s irritating to me, because it implies that children’s level of comprehension is low. My 13 year old made some excellent puns. And in my opinion the best puns require knowing A LOT of words AND their meanings.

Games like Punderdome are a great way to practice your humor writing skills. I also love Rory’s Story Cubes and Word Dominos.

Do you like writing puns? What are your favorite puns?

What other games do you like to play that help you be a better writer?

Tell a Story in One Sentence

If you’re writing a story, there are lots of things you need to know how to do.

You need to know how to create interesting characters.

You need to know how to write dialogue.

You need to know how to build tension.

You need to know how to write a good ending.

Once you’ve got all those things and a finished story, you can celebrate. Then you need to be able to figure out how to tell your story in one sentence.

If you can’t tell your story in one sentence, you might not know your story. It’s also possible you might not HAVE a story.

If you have any plans to send your story to a magazine, agent, or publisher, you should be able to share it in one sentence.

I’ll be brave and share my one sentence summary:

“Sixth grader Whitney decides to run a marathon to win a bet and prove she’s not Quit-ney.”

So – what’s your story in a sentence?

Run!

How to Be a Better Writer

I’m always learning how to be a better writer. It never stops. I am always reading different blog posts and listening to different podcasts. Also, I register for webinars from SCBWI. I attend events at the Highlights Foundation, and I always attend the annual SCBWI fall conference here in Pittsburgh.

I’ve learned some really interesting and helpful things lately that I know will help me be a better writer.

Things That Help Me Be a Better Writer

  • Libraries. Did you know the Library of Congress website offers free photos for your use? They are available online in the “Free to Use and Reuse” section on the homepage of the website. These photos can help with information, but they can also offer inspiration. I was so excited to discover this awesome feature. I loved clicking through a collection of Irish heritage photos.
be a better writer

A good reminder!

 

  • Friends. I’m trying to research some information on Rosalie Edge, and her papers are in New York and Denver. I wasn’t sure what to do – it’s pricy to travel there. So I posted online and asked writing friends who suggested I ask reference librarians for help.
  • Libraries again. Reference librarians are awesome and really helpful.  I want to look at primary source materials, but I can’t pay for a plane ticket to Denver. So I emailed a librarian at the library, and the librarian directed me to the reference department, who showed me the online index of her papers. I’m now waiting to see how much it would cost for the folders I’m interested in to be photocopied. Whatever the cost, I’m sure it’s less than a plane ticket!
  • Friends again. I’m back coaching a young person who wants to be a writer. This young person has some great ideas, but like we all do, struggles with getting the ideas written down in a great way. I want to help my young writer to do his best but I don’t want to change his language or his story. I asked my amazing writer friend Wende Dikec for help. She does a lot of coaching and teaching for young writers and she suggested I focus on guiding, not editing. I kept that in mind for my last coaching session and it felt so great. I felt like I was really doing the right thing as a coach. I’m so grateful!

 

Things I’m Writing

I’ve had a good end of summer and beginning of fall for my writing projects.

  • At the end of the summer, I turned in eleven short documents that were examples of different text structures. These documents are going to be used by a teacher to help students identify types of text, like cause and effect or problem and solution.
  • I found out I sold a craft and a fiction story to Highlights for Children.
  • Then, I received an offer to write a non-fiction book for an educational publisher.
  • I also started working on my young adult novel. I am excited about the story, but I realized I need to make a story map.

What are you working on this fall and winter?

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