How I'm Encouraging My Teen Son to Read

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

As a voracious reader, I’ve always looked forward to the day when my two kids would be old enough to discuss books with me. Now that they are both teenagers, that time has come. But with one child (my daughter) who reads a wide variety of literature quickly and another who’d rather hang with his buddies virtually on his Xbox, I find myself wondering if there’s a happy medium.

I grew up an only child and have struggled to figure out appropriate literature to steer my 14-year-old toward. In seventh grade, the year after he learned about the Holocaust in school, I loaned him a copy of Alan Gratz’s middle grade novel Prisoner B-3087, which was based on the true story of survivor Jack Gruener. It helped him to about this historical tragedy through the eyes of a boy who was almost his age, and better yet, the author is based in our home state.

This past year, as I stood in front of the bookshelf in my office, a copy of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton caught my eye. As he was looking for a new book to read for his language arts class, I recommended it to him. He read the back of it and wrinkled his forehead in confusion.

“Just try it out,” I said. “See what you think. The characters are interesting and when you’re finished, we’ll watch the movie together.”

During the time he was reading it, I made sure to ask him questions about the plot and characters in case he had any questions. He found the whole class divide between the “Socs” and the “Greasers” interesting and he was surprised when I shared with him that S.E. was a female author, and wrote the book before she even graduated high school. 

When the shelter-at-home orders started and both kids found themselves with way more downtime, I looked up the recommended list of books for rising 9th graders and gave him a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It took him awhile to get through it, and I could tell he was confused by certain historical events, so I read it along with him so we could discuss race relations in 1940s Alabama at the time. (He was shocked at the first instance of the "n-word.") This was also a good opportunity for him to learn new vocabulary words, as there are plenty to look up in that novel. He just finished  Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It's a little below his reading level, but given the Black Lives Matter movement, I found it relevant to current social justice initiatives and he thought it was well written. I read middle grade books myself so I have no problem with my kids reading them either.

I’m fortunate he’s willing to take my book suggestions, but I feel so strongly that kids should read a variety of books. I want them to be able to have conversations with teachers, other adults and classmates about the literature, and to learn about different historical events, current events and time periods through the written word. It hasn’t always been easy finding books for my sports-obsessed, video game loving boy to read, but we’re working on it. There's more to life than sports biographies, although those are good, too! All I ask is that he read 20-30 minutes each day, which I think is a fair compromise.

Do you have any good book recommendations for teen boys?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also blogs at

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Meet Marti Leimbach, Runner Up in Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Marti Leimbach is the author of seven novels, including New York Times bestseller Dying Young and Daniel Isn’t Talking. Widely translated, and published worldwide, Marti is a core tutor on the Master’s programme in creative writing at the University of Oxford. Her upcoming novel, Dragonfly Girl, will be published in February 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Winter 2020 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Marti: Every so often, I write short pieces in order to keep my fiction sharp. Writing with a word limit means you are paring down your work to the barest minimum you can without compromising on character development. It's a great practice even if its done purely to hone skills. However, when I wrote Fourth Of July I knew I had a piece that was more than practice. It has a voice and urgency to it that was worthy of developing further. I saw the opportunity of a competition as a nice framework to get me motivated to revise it into a publishable piece.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Fourth of July?” I liked how it’s written in the implied second person voice, without the “you” pronoun stated.

Marti: Second person is perhaps the most point of view with the most immediacy in fiction. It makes that silent request of the reader: imagine this. Imagine yourself in this. If you use second person you are challenging yourself as a writer to provide that imaginary experience at a high level. Otherwise, your demand to the reader will not only be resisted but possibly resented. In Fourth of July I provide an experience that I hope the reader will respond to with, "Yes, I'll come with you on this one. Definitely."

WOW:  What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Marti: When flash works, there's no more satisfying feeling to me. It's a complete thing with few, if any, real flaws to it. A novel is a different animal. I will always find things in it that are too long or overwrought or even embarrassing. I'm talking about published work now. But with flash, I rarely find anything in it that I regret. It's so short, so succinct, that either the whole thing works or the whole thing doesn't.

WOW:  You have a new novel, Dragonfly Girl, coming out early next year. What has your novel writing journey been like with this book?

Marti: Dragonfly Girl is a YA action novel that came to me, in part, in a dream. I've never had anything like that happen and I had to go with it. The first eighty pages just took me with them. I hardly had to work at all. After that, I had to push a little up through the middle. There is a sequel in progress and there was always going to be a sequel. The story is more than a single volume and I've known that from the start. I've never written YA and I've never written a novel knowing there would be a sequel, so it's all very new to me.

WOW: Sounds interesting! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Marti. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Marti: Don't worry about whether you win or not. Love the process of writing and use contests as an opportunity to meet deadlines, get feedback, share in the writing community and enjoy your work. Two rules for writing I go by are: 1) Sit in the chair 2) Take chances. Think of writing contests as another reason to do both. And good luck!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert Blog Tour and Giveaway

Monday, July 13, 2020

This is the true story of a young white woman, Erica Elliott, who comes to the Navajo Reservation in 1971 as a newly minted schoolteacher, knowing nothing about her students or their culture. After several blunders and misunderstandings, and beset by loneliness and despair, Erica makes a determined effort to overcome the barriers of language and culture. From the moment she begins learning the Navajo language, the people open their hearts and homes to her, inviting her into a world that will profoundly impact the rest of her life.

Erica falls in love with her Navajo students—along with their enchanting land, healing ceremonies, and rich traditions. She witnesses many miracles during this time, and experiences her own miracle when the elders pray for her healing. She survives fearsome encounters with a mountain lion and a shapeshifting “skin walker.” She learns how to herd and butcher sheep, make fry bread, weave traditional rugs, and more.

Erica returns years later to serve the Navajo people as a medical doctor in an under-funded and under-staffed clinic, where she treats myriad ailments, delivers countless babies, and performs emergency procedures. When a medicine man offers to thank her with a ceremony, more miracles unfold.

Print Length: 202 Pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Balboa Press
ISBN-10: 1982220988
ISBN-13: 9781982220983

Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert is now available to purchase in print and as an e-book at,, and Barnes and Noble. Add it to your GoodReads reading listing as well.

Book Giveaway Contest

To win a copy of the book Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert by Erica Elliott, M.D., please enter using Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on July 19th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author

Erica Elliott is a medical doctor with a busy private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A true adventurer, she has lived and worked around the world. She served as a teacher for Indigenous children on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and in the mountains of Ecuador.

In 1976, she was one of the first American women to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. She taught rock climbing and mountaineering for Outward Bound and, after her first year of medical school, she led an all-women’s expedition to the top of Denali in Alaska.

In 1993, Erica helped found The Commons, a cohousing community in Santa Fe where she continues to live. She gave a TEDx talk about living in cohousing. Referred to affectionately as “the Health Detective,” she treats patients who come to her from all parts of the country with mysterious and difficult-to-diagnose illnesses. Erica is a frequent radio guest and has given workshops at various venues, including Esalen and Omega Institute.

Find her online at:

Author website:

Professional website:

Blog site:


-- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulation on your book Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert! What led you to write this memoir?

Erica: When I lived with the Navajo people 50 years ago, I kept a detailed diary. I knew that what I was experiencing was far outside the reality in which most white people lived. That realization prompted me to carefully document the extraordinary world I had entered.

When I shared my diary with friends and family, they strongly urged me to write a book about my life on the reservation. I remember my response: “No one will ever believe that this really happened.” As I grew older, when being believed was no longer a concern, I spent most of my energy practicing medicine and taking care of my patients, with no time left over for writing.

When the election of 2016 happened, a close friend said to me, “Now is the time to share this story with the world. It is a profound healing story relevant to these divisive times.” Those words galvanized me into action.

WOW: I think it's amazing you knew right away how profound the experience would be. I love how this memoir is about your journey to find the true purpose and meaning of your life. How did living and working with Navajo people do that?

Erica: Ever since I was a young girl, I knew I had a purpose in life, but I had no idea what that purpose was. As a young schoolteacher, I witnessed the transformative effects of unconditional love between the students and me.

The children in my class had reached the fourth grade barely able to speak English, having endured teachers who didn’t show much interest in them or their culture, and didn’t recognize their potential. After a rocky beginning, making lots of cultural blunders, I eagerly accepted my Navajo teacher’s aide offer to help me understand Navajo culture. She taught me how to say a few sentences in Navajo. As soon as I tried speaking their language, the kids became electrified, as though awakening from a stupor. They invited me to their remote homes to meet their families. On the weekends I participated in their day-to-day life and their ceremonies.

The children in my class wanted me to know all about them. As a result, they learned English so fast that four of them won a regional speech contest at the end of the school year.

From those magical years with the Navajo people, I learned that my purpose in life needed to include service to others, given with empathy and unconditional love—a love that included being open to people who were different from me.

I also saw that I had a knack for making learning exciting. But I still needed to discover where my strongest gifts lay—gifts that were unique to me.

Eventually I realized that practicing medicine was my ultimate destiny, a field in which all the above requirements could be fulfilled. I also discovered that I had an inborn gift of being able to figure out root causes and treatment for mysterious illnesses, like a “medical detective.”

I learned that my purpose in life needed to include service to others, given with empathy and unconditional love—a love that included being open to people who were different from me.

WOW: What an incredible learning experience. What was your process with writing this memoir?

Erica: As part of my self-care routine in the morning, I walk in the dry riverbed behind my house. During those walks, I let my mind idle. Old, long-forgotten memories of my time with the Navajo people popped back into my mind. When I returned home, I wrote them down in a notebook.

Most evenings, after dinner, I sat down to continue writing the memoir, even though I would feel utterly exhausted from a full day of seeing patients. As I sat in front of the computer, I didn’t think I had any energy left to write. At the point I was ready to give up, thoughts would enter my head about how this book might make a difference in people’s lives—more than mere entertainment. Those thoughts gave me energy that seemed to come out of nowhere. It felt like I had plugged myself into a current of energy from some universal source. I would usually write from one to four hours at a stretch in the evening.

WOW: How amazing! How do you manage your life as a published author along with your medical career? 

Erica: It is very challenging to attend all the readings, interviews, and webinars while tending to my patients. I have a full time medical practice. My friends urge me to retire and devote myself exclusively to writing and all that entails.

I have no intention of retiring. My work as a doctor is very fulfilling and meaningful. It brings me joy to be of service to people when they are vulnerable and in great need. I will have to find a way to juggle all my interests in a way that is sustainable. This is my latest challenge.

WOW: What do you hope people take away from reading your memoir?

Erica: My hope is that the readers will feel inspired to dive into unfamiliar territory and learn about people and cultures that are different from what they are used to. My hope is that they will keep their hearts and minds open while they listen and learn without judging. My hope is also that the reader will have a whole new appreciation and understanding of the Navajo people, as seen through my eyes.

WOW: I really believe that readers will. What are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?

Erica:  Currently I am working on memoir #2 and #3.

Memoir #2 will be about my time in the Peace Corps where I created bilingual teaching materials for the Quechua-speaking Indians whom I lived with in a tiny village at 12,000 ft in the Andes.

While in Ecuador, I managed to talk my way into an all-male climbing club in Quito. The men accepted me like a mascot and taught me all about snow and ice climbing, glacier travel, and rock climbing. I enthusiastically learned what the men had to teach me and ended up doing an ascent of a peak on Mt. Sincholagua that had never been climbed before. The peak was subsequently christened with my name, Pico Erica Elliott. I also was among the first women to climb Aconcagua, 23,000 ft, in Argentina.

On the reservation, a Navajo grandmother made a prophecy that I would “face huge obstacles and challenges” in my life, and if I survived, I would have “powerful medicine to bring to the people.” I viewed my adventures in the high mountains and the extremely dangerous climbing as training for making my mind and body strong in anticipation of whatever awaited me along the path toward my life’s purpose.

Much of the memoir contains flashbacks about my unusual childhood growing up all over the world with a Swiss mother and a general as my father. I began school in England and graduated from high school in Germany. The readers will see the many powerful forces at work in shaping my life.

The last part of memoir #2 involves how I discovered that being a doctor was the life purpose I was looking for. Against all odds, including having no money, I got into medical school.

Medical school was both thrilling and disillusioning— and even sometimes shocking. In order to excel and be near the top of my class, I had to put my soul in a little box and tuck it away, hoping that someday I could retrieve it and take it out of storage.

Memoir #3 takes the reader on the final leg of the journey towards meaning and purpose.

I had two catastrophic events in my adult life, chillingly similar to what the Navajo grandmother had said in her prophecy, both of which almost took my life.

Thirty years ago, the first health crisis knocked me off the golden path of mainstream medicine and eventually led me right into my soul’s work, that of being a true healer and not merely a pill dispenser who treats symptoms without addressing underlying root causes of illness.

My current medical practice is deeply meaningful and in complete alignment with my heart, head, and soul. Patients come to me from throughout the country and even abroad, asking me to help them with their mysterious illnesses. I have been nicknamed “the Medical Detective.” I walk the reader through some of the fascinating cases I see and how I solve them using a whole array of tools which includes deep and respectful listening, extensive questioning, intuition, the science of environmental medicine, nutritional medicine, herbal medicine, indigenous medicine, and mainstream medicine when appropriate.

The second health catastrophe brought me intense suffering, which eventually cracked my heart wide open and led to enormous breakthroughs. I unabashedly love my patients and express that to them. My medical practice has become my spiritual practice—a vehicle for transmitting love, empathy, and kindness.

Memoir #4 will be about my son, titled, “How My Son Raised Me.”

WOW: You have lived such an incredibly rewarding life. I can't wait to read what you have published next. Thank you again for your time and best of luck on the tour! 

-- Blog Tour Schedule

July 13th @ The Muffin
What goes better with coffee in the morning than a muffin? Join us at the WOW blog to celebrate the launch of author Erica Elliott's Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book.

July 15th @ A Writer's Life
Visit Caroline's blog today and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

July 17th @ CK Sorens' Blog
Stop by Carrie's blog and you can read her review of Erica Elliott's Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

July 20th @ Memoir Revolution
Read Jerry Waxler's essay "Losing Yourself to Find Yourself," inspired by Erica Elliott's memoir Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

July 22nd @ A Storybook World
Visit Deirdra's blog today where she spotlights Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

July 26th @ Michelle Cornish's Blog
Visit Michelle's blog and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 1st @ Deborah Zenha-Adams
Visit Deborah's blog today and you can read her insights into Erica Elliott's Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 3rd @ Memoir Writer's Journey
Visit Kathleen's blog today and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 4th @ Beverely A. Baird's Blog
Visit Bev's blog and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 7th @ The New England Book Critic
Visit Victoria's blog today and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 7th @ Books, Beans, and Botany
Visit Ashley's blog today and you can read a review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 8th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Stop by Linda's blog and read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 10th @ Fiona Ingram's blog
Fiona will be featuring author Erica Elliott's memoir Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 13th @ To Write or Not to Write
Visit Sreevarsha's blog and read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert

August 14th @ Bookworm Blog
Visit Anjanette's blog and read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

August 15th @ Strength 4 Spouses
Visit Wendi's blog today and you can read her review of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

To win a copy of the book Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert by Erica Elliott, M.D., please enter using Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on July 19th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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What I Learned From Old Dog School

Sunday, July 12, 2020
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, I think they’re wrong. A dog (even a female one; I’m trying to keep this post rated “G,” if you get my drift) who’s grizzled around the mouth and a bit past their prime can still learn something. Or so I’m hoping.

Earlier this week, Radar and I went to a training class for adult dogs (as opposed to puppies). Radar’s a handsome blonde 82-pound boy. He just turned 6. I’m interested in him becoming a therapy dog for my students. Ideally, I’d take him once a week to hang out with me. However, that much sensory stimulation wears a dog out (6 or 7 hours a day is sometimes too much for them to handle), so it depends on how he’ll do.

Do you now understand why it's hard to be stern with him?

It also depends on if we can unteach all the bad habits we’ve either encouraged (“Here! Jump up on me and give me a hug!”) or the ones we’ve not been too stern with (“Down?”).

Yeah, that question mark after the “Down” command is not a typo. Apparently, I don’t always speak like it’s a statement (“Bad!”) or a command (“Down!”). According to the teachers, who are phenomenal, I ask my furry guy questions, when I should be talking in a stern voice.

As we paraded up and down one of the teacher’s driveway, showing our “walk” and “sit” and “down” and “recall” skills, I learned some things about myself as a writer. Like the great and powerful Cathy C. Hall, I’m going to try and connect my everyday mundane life with the craft of writing. (Not to imply that Cathy’s life is boring. With Libby and her reign of terror, Cathy’s days are never dull.) Here are the things I learned at the old dog class:

  • Say it with an exclamation mark, or at least a period. When people ask you what you do, say, “I’m a writer.” Don’t whimper about it and explain that you don’t have any books published yet, or you’ve only got a few self-published ones, or you’ve only been published in magazines and anthologies. Say it with pride. I’m a writer. Say it with conviction, the way I’m supposed to say “No!” when Radar leaps at us out of unbridled enthusiasm.

  • Be consistent. I need to rebuff Radar each time he leaps up at me. I need to keep his choke collar right under his chin and high on his head (where he doesn’t like it) until the both of us can walk the right way. I also need to be consistent with my querying and my submitting and my writing accountability group. (I’ve been AWOL from them for the past 42 years. They don’t even remember my name.) Being consistent will help my writing muscles form habits.

  • Practice. Practice doesn’t usually make perfect, but it does make it better. This summer I was part of a query group and a blurb group through SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Honing my query and my blurb made them tighter and more engaging. Hopefully as I practice walking with Radar, I’ll learn to be the alpha dog.

How about you? What “old dog” habits are you trying to break, and what tricks or skills are you hoping to learn?

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school language arts teacher, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer.  She's desperate to either get agent representation or a publishing contract for her middle grades novel. (Make her an offer! She'll keep you in fudge for the rest of your life if you snap up her manuscript.)
If you'd like to read more of her writing, check out her blog.
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When You Ask, You Get!

Saturday, July 11, 2020
isn't this a lovely quote? 
A very long time ago I wrote an article titled: If You Don't Ask. This article was about asking specific questions as they relate to our writing. Asking for reviews, feedback, cover opinions, etc. Now, life has changed since I wrote that article. I don't simply mean just the weather as it was snowing and below zero the day I wrote that and today it was in the 90s and humid. I mean our culture is ever changing and in recent months it seems to be doing back flips instead of just simply ebbing and flowing like a gentle lake.

How has the changing culture affected how you ask for help when it comes to your writing? It's important to keep up with what is going on around us. Have you approached a podcast host and asked to be interviewed? This can be a great way to reach the masses - and the best part is, most hosts will read your book beforehand or at the very least, allow you to help craft the very questions you'll be answering for the audience. Have you created a Facebook or Instagram account for yourself as an author? Do you post to those social media pages on a daily basis asking for ideas, opinions, reviews, feedback? Are you posting several times a day asking your audience specific questions to keep them engaged? Have you done a live video? Do you post things about your personal life as well to help people relate to you as not only an author but as a friend? When you ask people into your life, you create a group of loyal readers.

I learned something interesting recently. Did you know when you do a Facebook Live presentation (even something short and sweet) that Facebook will push it out to more followers? It will appear to more people and every time someone comments on it, it will bring it back to the top of the newsfeed. This may not always be the case, but it is right now - so take advantage of it! Do a live video about your garden and ask people what their favorite flower is - whenever someone watches the recorded version, they'll still comment, and there you go - you're back at the top of the list! Some people recommend doing a video every day - not just about your writing or your latest book, but about the real behind the scenes parts of your life!

This doesn't just relate to authors either - so feel free to share this information with your friends who have side-gigs, who own bookstores, etc...

And now - here's the ASK portion of my article: what have you started doing differently this year that has helped you reach more people? get more likes? sell more books?

What tidbits would you like to share to help others be more successful? What has helped you get to the point you are at? What would you like to try that is new/new to you?


and now...a little more about me...

Shown from left to right:
Delphine riding Honey
Mr. Otto holding Eudora
Crystal riding Marv.
Thank you Forward Farm, LLC 
Crystal is the office manager, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth
mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Manager with Xyngular, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Darlin' and Joker, pony Miss Maggie May, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows, riding horses, and riding unicorns (not at the same time), taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her own blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade and she has never (not once) been accused of being normal!
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Friday Speak Out!: What’s Hidden in Your Inventory?

Friday, July 10, 2020
by Carole Mertz

I’m building on Sue Edwards’s and Nicole Pyle’s recent blogs about taking inventory. For a poet it’s slightly different than for a prose writer, though there are parallels. When I do inventory, I let myself dwell on the accomplishments and I compare them with accomplishments of prior writing periods. For example, I may notice during these past six weeks I’ve not written and completed any “new” poems, but I’ve submitted to more than X number of journals. Or I’ll notice my work shifted heavily from creating new poems to reviewing poetry collections and sending out those reviews. 

 When unexpected events occur, I inject into my inventory how that event affected my normal output. I ask myself, was that event beneficial or an interruption? I also ask, which was more important, in hindsight, attending to the event, or maintaining my normal or usual output of new material? Sometimes both the event and new output coincide. 

 As an “event” I might be referring to an editor of a journal asking me to review a file of 12 book reviews and to select the two that best meet the journal’s theme or requirements. Or he might ask me to indicate the two that need the least editing and revision. 

 Or an event might be the sudden unexpected invitation to judge a contest. Or it might be the approaching deadline for making “Best of the Net” selections for a journal with which I’m affiliated. 

Sometimes a poet friend will ask for a review of his or her book, or a colleague will request an interview. Sometimes these out-of-routine events become stimuli for new writing. As ever, it’s up to the individual to establish what (s)he chooses as priorities. 

I believe everything we do as writers can be harnessed to good use. It’s important to realize that so-called unproductive periods may have hidden within them new challenges or the generation of new ideas and new composition. 

 I sense much of a writer’s work takes place at an unconscious level. Therefore it’s important to acknowledge, when taking inventory, that even though outwardly measurable accomplishments may seem to be waning, more subtle growth may be taking place. 

 * * *
Carole Mertz writes craft essays for Wow! Women on Writing, Working Writer and for blog sites. She is the author of the chapbook Toward a Peeping Sunrise (at Prolific Press) and the poetry collection Color and Line (forthcoming with Kelsay Books). Carole resides with her husband in Parma, Ohio where she teaches classical music while also continuing to study various poetic forms.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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What A Writer Wants From a Professional Critique

Thursday, July 09, 2020
I think it was May when I watched a children’s author’s free webinar. Following the webinar, a limited number of critiques were available for purchase. And because I was impressed with the author’s webinar, not to mention his slew of humorous picture books, and having recently come into a windfall (Thanks, Stimulus Check!), I signed up for a critique.

But mostly, I had a funny picture book myself and I wanted to start sending it out into the world. Except before I send a manuscript out into the world, I like to get a professional critique (or two. Or twenty). And then the critique instructions landed in my Inbox with this question: “What do you want to get from this critique?” or something along those lines.

Well. I had to think for a moment because I couldn’t put down my first want, or even the second want. And honestly, I don’t think I’m that different from most writers who sign up for a professional critique…

When I have a manuscript all polished up and ready to start sending out in the world, what I first dream of from that professional feedback is absolute affirmation. Yep, I want that multi-published author or agent or editor to say, “Oh my goodness, Cathy C. Hall, this is wonderful! I love every sparkling word and how you’ve fit them all together in every sparkling paragraph!” If it’s an agent, I want immediate representation; from an editor, I want him or her to take my manuscript—as is—straight to acquisitions! From an author, I want an offer to take the manuscript to their agent because it deserves to be published.

Anyway, after a few moments of indulging what I suspect is every writer’s fantasy, I moved on to my next want. Which might also be every writer’s secret desire. I call it the “Just fix it!” feedback. Because most of us have spent hours and hours and hours on a manuscript, revising and rewriting and whatnot, and really, we just want to get it published. So if our critique guru is not going to lavish us with praise, the least he or she can do is fix all the glaring problems that are so obvious to their expert eyes. Just tell us in no uncertain terms how we can make the manuscript perfect—and if he or she wants to be truly helpful, make the corrections so we can move everything along.

But an agent or editor or multi-published author doesn’t have time (or any desire, secret or not) to rewrite a manuscript. And upon further thought, though it seems like it would be the easy route, I eventually remember how annoyed I get when a critique partner marks through a sentence and rewrites it. So I suppose I don’t want anyone, despite their expertise, to make what he or she considers the proper fixes for my entire work. What I really want is suggestions for how I can fix my work so that I can decide how or if I want to make those changes.

In the end, when it comes to a professional critique, I want to know if my premise or concept is unique enough and marketable. And I want ideas as to how to improve the manuscript so that I can sell it.

That’s how I answered the question, and that’s exactly the detailed feedback I received from this author. Worth. Every. Penny.

(How about you? Tell me what you want from a professional critique. Submitting writers want to know!)

~Cathy C. Hall is still in the ruminating stage on this particular manuscript, but once she makes her rewrites and edits, she'll be sending it out into the world.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels
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Writing Lessons I Learned At My Grandmother's Knee

Wednesday, July 08, 2020
When I was a child I was always at my maternal grandmother's knee, who was affectionately called Mama. Every weekend for as long as I could remember until Mama passed away, my mother, sister, and I would pack a weekend bag, kiss my father goodbye, and go stay with Mama in her apartment which was over a laundromat in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn. It was the apartment she moved into after leaving New Jersey, and where she would later raise five children as a young widow. 

We'd arrive at Mama's in a yellow taxi cab most times and other times we'd take the bus that dropped us off a block away. Delicious aroma's from something she was cooking always greeted us in the stairwell before she unlocked the front door. And when she opened it, her salt and pepper hair in pin curls, her arms would open wide to give us the tightest hugs, as if she hadn't seen us in a while even though she'd just seen us the weekend before.

"What you writing about now?" Mama would ask me when I unpacked my writing notebook along with my clothes to put in an empty drawer she had cleared out.

I'd show her whatever had filled the pages of my writing notebook. She'd smile proudly. At that age I wrote mainly stories about cats, but when she nodded her head in approval it made me feel like I was a writing prodigy.

It was at Mama's knee that I learned an abundance of lessons that inspired me as a writer and infused my writing. Lessons about life, love, family, food, faith, and determination.

At Mama's knee I learned about my history; the painful part and the joyous, proud hopeful part. She was a living history book. Her lessons inspired me to write and speak about our history not just with my own ethnicity, but others so that they too would know those parts about us. The history she spoke into me fortified my storytelling.

At Mama's knee I learned about faith, never giving up on my dreams no matter the challenges. That has helped me press on as a writer when facing rejections or writer's block. 

At Mama's knee I gained wisdom. She had a sage saying for anything and everything, that lifted me up, humored me, and taught me. My female characters often repeat her sayings in their narratives, a favorite one being, "This too shall pass." 

At Mama's knee I learned the importance of traditions; the loving act and art of preparing meals that were food for your soul, the sacredness of family and friends gathering around the table, and other cultural traditions. Her traditions bonded us as a family, and I frequently recreate them with detailed imagery in the fiction stories I write. 

Mama indeed was a gem. Just as it was with my late mother and paternal grandmother, I cannot write stories without a huge part of Mama's molasses sweet spirit and nuances being in it.

What fond lessons did you learn from your elders whose knees you sat at as a child, and how has that inspired you as a writer? I hope you share a few of those lessons in this post.


Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published in several magazines, anthologies, and online blogs. her fiction stories are always "full" of the voices of the women who loved and nurtured her.
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Interview with Kristin Lenz: Runner Up in the Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker who has lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books Award statewide literature program. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have been published by Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary MamaThe New Social Worker, and Writer’s Digest. She was honored to win 2nd place in the WOW! Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. She also writes freelance for Detroit area non-profits and manages the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Michigan Chapter blog. Learn more and connect at

Be sure to read Kristin's story Spontaneous Combustion and then come back and read her interview!

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, I notice in your bio that you have an impressive amount of writing publications. What is your secret? 

Kristin: Thank you! Maybe it looks impressive all gathered together in one paragraph, but the reality is I’ve been writing for 20 years and my bio reflects my journey of slowly improving my craft and finding publications that are a good fit for my work. 

WOW: And that is the key! Finding publications that are a fit for our work. So, the character in your story Spontaneous Combustion is a young woman who is burdened by the pressures of her life. How did your work as a social worker influence this character? 

Kristin: In addition to my social work background, I’m also the mother of a teen. Even with my clinical training, there were times that I felt helpless as she struggled to navigate the anxiety-producing, pressure-filled system of competitive sports, testing, and academic expectations. I started writing to vent my own frustration, but then I widened my lens to create characters who embodied and reflected aspects of our society that troubled me. People often complain about teenagers and their emotional behavior, but I wanted to flip this around and show how adults have created many of these problematic expectations while teens see the reality. I wrote this story last year before the Coronavirus pandemic, and now it almost feels like a relic from a time past. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about using this crisis to reshape our priorities, address inequality and discrimination, and make long-needed changes to our nation’s safety net and structures. Today’s teens are going to make sure these changes happen. 

WOW: I think that's so true - and inspiring! I see this is the second time you've won in a WOW contest! For those interested in writing flash fiction, what advice would you give them?

Kristin: I learned a lot from two different workshops (one in-person and the other online) led by local Detroit authors/instructors - Doreen O’Brien and Peter Markus. We read many micro and short stories and discussed what made them evocative. My original draft of Spontaneous Combustion was twice as long, but I challenged myself to reduce the word count for this contest. I still like that longer version too, but it’s a good exercise to try with any writing project; cut redundancy and fillers, and use specific descriptions and actions to convey mood and meaning. Endings are also important, especially in flash fiction. It took me a while to find the right ending to this story, and I waited for over a month before I submitted it. I re-read and tweaked it every week. Finally, I was out for a walk one day and the ending came to me. 

WOW: How awesome is that! Now, a confession: I have major title envy! I personally struggle so much with titling my stories. How did the title of this piece come about for you? 

Kristin: I always struggle with titles too! I came up with Spontaneous Combustion when I was thinking about the mood of the piece and my character feeling so much pressure and anger that she could burst into flames. I had already referenced her AP Chemistry class, and out of curiosity I looked up the formula for spontaneous combustion. I ultimately added it to one of the scenes: “I close my eyes and scratch Fuel + O2 --> CO2 + H2O across the inside of my eyelids.” 

WOW: You have such incredible sensory details in this piece! Can you tell me a bit about your writing process to create such vivid scenes? 

Kristin: I learned so much by working with my editor, Jotham Burrello, on my debut novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go. Whenever a scene needed more emotional resonance, he encouraged me to take a look around from my character’s point of view, keeping in mind how she was feeling. What does she notice and how does this show her mood or reflect what’s happening in her life? What does she see, hear, smell, or touch? Showing vs telling is a lesson I need to continuously practice and re-learn!

WOW: I can't even tell you how much that same advice helps me. I will absolutely apply it to my writing. Best of luck with your writing and congratulations again! 
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How Doing Writing Inventory Will Jumpstart Your Creativity

Monday, July 06, 2020

Last Wednesday, Sue blogged about jumpstarting your writing this July. I have to tell you, I needed to read that. So, inspired by her post, I reflected on another way to get myself writing this summer:

Doing a writing inventory.

If you aren't familiar with the term, businesses do inventory so they know how much product they have on hand. It's a way of stopping everything and seeing exactly what you have on hand. 

You see, over the past few months, I have been in a fog and creative writing has been the furthest from my mind. I had nearly forgotten about a flash fiction piece I submitted until I received a rejection letter. Flowery language aside, I felt like this rejection letter was telling me two things about this story 1) my story didn't make sense and 2) my story has been told before. For a moment I thought about ditching the story completely and then the quiet, creative voice stopped me. Instead, I sought feedback (which ended up being surprisingly positive) and after a few edits, I plan on sending the story out again. 

After logging the rejection on my submissions spreadsheet, I realized so many of my stories hadn't been submitted in weeks, if not longer. A couple I had even forgotten about recently. I realized, it was time to do inventory. 

Doing inventory on your writing means you are taking stock of what you have and where you at in each piece.

I recommend taking out a notebook and poring over your files or handwritten stories and logging all the pieces that you've been working on, even if it's been months since you've touched it.

Do a checklist for each piece that considers the following:

* Is the first draft complete?
* Is it typed? (Am I the only one who lets handwritten stories sit around untyped for months?)
* Have I done the first round of revising?
* Have I asked for and received feedback? 
* Have I made revised the story based on the feedback?
* Has this been submitted recently?
* Can I submit this elsewhere, simultaneously?
* Can I edit this piece to match the theme or prompt of a particular competition?

Your answer to each of the above questions will give you a clue about what you can do next.

I have also a treasure trove of half-finished pieces and story starters that have been left untouched. You may want to do an inventory on those as well. Consider these questions:

* What feelings am I trying to evoke with this piece?
* What does my character want?
* What is the setting?
* What is the inciting incident?
* What problem is my character dealing with?
* How can I make things worse/more complicated for this character?
* What is the resolution I am trying for?
* What's missing from this piece?
* Is there a writing contest that I can use to help me build on this story?

Of course, that is just the start of the questions you may ask yourself about various ideas and half-finished stories. Keep your writing weakness in mind as you take stock of your ideas. For example, if your characters never seem to want something, ask yourself if you have given them a "want" as you do inventory. Also, consider marrying two ideas together, whether it's swapping out settings, swapping main (or supporting) characters, or swapping inciting incidents.

One of my favorite activities is poring over old notebooks and running into a half-finished piece that I find amazing all over again. That is essentially what you are doing by taking writing inventory. You are examining the treasure trove of stock that you have and making use of it. You may just find your writing amazing all over again.

Once you are done taking stock, start giving yourself a timeline for each piece. Give yourself a specific weekly or monthly goal, such as finishing one half-finished story each week. Also, use the status of each story and idea as a guideline. If you have more stories needing feedback than you do submittable stories, it's time to get feedback. If you are lacking in new ideas, consider making that your challenge this month. 

Hopefully with this in mind, you will be able to get out of your writing slump and get writing again. 

Nicole Pyles is a freelance writer and Blog Tour Manager. You can check out her writing portfolio here, particularly if you are in need of a writer at this time. Also, check out her latest blog, Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.
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Meet Charlotte B. Roth - Runner Up in the 2020 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest with "Oxfords and Heels - - Walking Through Life"

Sunday, July 05, 2020
Congratulations to Charlotte B. Roth and Oxfords and Heels - - Walking Through Life and all the winners of our 2020 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Charlotte's Bio:
Charlotte B. Roth fell in love with the craft of writing five years ago in a memoir workshop. Her work appears in the anthology titled The Boom Project, and also in Long Ridge Review. She received an Honorable Mention in the Q419, Women on Writing creative non-fiction contest.

Her writing draws from her life growing up in Pineville, Kentucky, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the strong-willed women that raised her, African violets, and the old Ash tree in her back yard. Charlotte currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband, two spoiled Havanese, and 88 house plants (at last count).

Playing with her grandsons, gardening, meditation, and a cup of Earl Grey, fuel her creativity. Follow her on Twitter@croth502, Instagram@croth502, and @charlottebowlingroth.

If you haven't done so already, check out Charlotte's intimate and touching story Oxfords and Heels - - Walking Through Life and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations Charlotte! Thank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Oxfords and Heels?

Charlotte: Remember that life is composed of everyday minutia, and so are our most interesting and intriguing stories. When you get stumped, or your mind deadlocks, stop for a moment to allow a small memory or an object from the past to float through your mind. Then start writing about it without conscious critiquing. It's a good exercise to remember the tiny details of your life. It adds perspective. Dust off old memories, connect the dots, try to put segmented essays together. Oxfords and Heels were four pairs of shoes, but it could just as easily have been four purses, five dogs, or three boyfriends— just let your muse take over without judgment.

WOW: I feel like that slight pause is great advice for life right now too - thank you for that!

Where do you write? What does your space look like?

Charlotte: My space is chaotic, as is my thought process. My desk is covered with papers, books, notebooks, sticky notes, a finger labyrinth, crystals, and my mala beads. Anne Lamott says, "Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground," and I agree with her. I have two large windows that display my climbing yellow roses dancing with purple clematis, azalea bushes, and a row of holly trees. Surrounding my desk are bookshelves, and plants. I begin with a writing ritual: I make a cup of tea (Earl Grey or chai), put it in a special teacup with a saucer. The teacup I chose depends on the energy I'd like to channel. I have one that belonged to my mother, my mother-in-law, an Alice in Wonderland cup, the teacup Chip, from Beauty and the Beast—I can go on about my teacups, but I won't bore you.

WOW: It's great to hear you are so successful in your craft despite the chaos - that's empowering to many I'm sure.

Do you have advice for your younger self when it comes to making decisions, believing in yourself, and/or writing? What would your current self say to the younger you?

Charlotte: That's a hard one. I'd tell her to listen to her heart. Follow it regardless what people say or think. Be more confident. When I graduated high school, I was told by family and teachers that I had to do something with business, science, or education if I wanted to make any money. That I couldn't make a living in art or literature. So that's what I did. I worked in business management and later, property management all the while writing stories in my head. I wasted a lot of time and I regret that. I wish I'd followed the starving artist path. I'd say— Do what brings you joy. And don't throw those old poems, journals, or diaries away! They are golden.

WOW: I love so much of what you said - especially:


Thank you for your honesty!

Speaking of joy - does journaling bring you joy? What role has journaling and/or writer's group played in your writing life?

Charlotte: Reading Julia Cameron's The Artist Way, and working through her workbook brought me back to journaling and writing.

My monthly writing group and my writing workshop community are the backbones of my writing. Everything I write filters through one of these groups. "Oxfords and Heels" was actually born from a writing prompt from one of my group workshops.

Sitting around a nurturing table, offering honest feedback and encouragement helps make my writing stronger. Without this tribe of writers, I wouldn't have found the courage or confidence to share my work, enter a contest, or put my essays out there for submissions.

WOW: We here at WOW! are so happy you fuond the courage and confidence to share - thank you!

Do you often enter contests or is this a first? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests and submitting their work?

Charlotte: I rarely enter contests.

I have entered the WOW! contest three times, though. I like the word limitation and the option to get feedback. I entered Oxfords and Heels in a previous WOW contest, revised it from the excellent critique received, and reentered for this one. I was thrilled my edits, based on the advice received, helped this piece make it to the top ten. I'd tell other authors, "You have nothing to lose, especially with the WOW contest where you have the option for constructive feedback, your essay will be better in the long run, even if you don't win.

WOW: That's great advice - and speaking of we are April 20th 2020 and what advice do you have for others during this turbulent pandemic time? What's working or not working for you?

Charlotte: I am not the one to ask for advice, but what I've found helpful is a bit of a routine, different from the routine— pre-pandemic. Meditation has been my saving grace. If you don't have a meditation practice, I'd recommend starting one. Even if you just start slow, sitting in silence for 10 minutes, it helps ground you. My husband and I meditate first thing every morning, and again after dinner. We walk the dogs at 4:00 every day. We meet at 5:00 to watch our wise governor on television. He reminds us we are all in this together. We facetime our grandsons at least four times a week.

Limit social media, don't get caught up in the frenzy and the fear. Keep a gratitude journal, find something you can be grateful for every day. Some days it may just be toilet paper.
I'm finding it hard to start anything new. I am digging back into old pieces and revising. I had this vision that I'd write and write and write creatively uninterrupted. I'd sort through old photos and organize, I'd clean and organize my house, but none of that is working. I'm not sure where the day goes.

WOW: Thank you for that sage advice regarding this trying time and thank you for sharing your thoughts today. We will be looking forward to hearing more from you in 2020 and beyond! 

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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How "Unsolved Mysteries" Influenced My Writing

Saturday, July 04, 2020

When I was in college, I became obsessed with watching the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” when it ran on the Lifetime Channel. Working 30 plus hours a week and taking a full course load of communications classes, I rarely had downtime. When I did, I would settle onto my couch and spend my evenings with host Robert Stack, complete with his trench coat with the collar turned up. Even today, just hearing the opening theme music can make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. There was something about the stories that were shared, with the mix of ghosts, murderers, unsolved murders, missing people and strange phenomenon that reeled me in almost every time.

In fact, a few years ago my husband went on a business trip out in Long Beach, California and called me to say he was staying on an old ship that had been refurbished into a hotel.

“The Queen Mary,” I said, incredulously. “Uh oh. You’d better watch out. According to ‘Unsolved Mysteries,’ that place is haunted.” Sure enough, on the two nights he stayed there, the fire alarm went off around 3 a.m. each morning, and even he had a feeling there was a supernatural reasoning behind it.

When I found out Netflix had created a reboot of "Unsolved Mysteries," I jumped for joy but also approached it cautiously. This is, after all, the type of show that first stirred my curiosity into true crime reporting, because I discovered it at the same time I was studying to become a journalist. I’m convinced that show helped me learn how to craft intriguing lead sentences, teaser copy and scripts that interest a variety of listeners. I’ve even been toying around with the idea of creating a bonus episode of my podcast, “Missing in the Carolinas,” where I discuss some of my favorite episodes of the show, since I’ve been binging reruns on Amazon Prime.

As of right now, there are six episodes of the reboot available on Netflix, with six more to be included in the first season. Without doing any research first, I watched a few episodes this week while I’ve been on vacation. I loved the tribute they paid to original host Robert Stack in the opening credits, but then became confused. The format of the show is much like what you’d see on an Investigation Discovery show like “Disappeared,” and each episode only covers one story, rather than the re-enacted vignettes the original produced. In my opinion, the producers did a great job in uncovering some stories I’d never heard of before. The first, about a young man named Rey Rivera who died under mysterious circumstances, reeled me in. The second episode about a missing woman from Georgia was edited in such a strange way that I asked my daughter if I had missed something and had to replay a section. I got my answers in a written update at the end of the story. Only one episode in the first six featured a paranormal event—a UFO sighting in 1969 Massachusetts. I've read some mixed reviews about the reboot and agree with some people that the ghost and haunting stories of the original show were what kept me up at night. This reboot doesn't feature any of those so far.

One of the best things about the original series was the updates that would be featured in the segments, and I’m hopeful new information will help solve the cases featured in the first half of the season. If so, I hope they’ll add in updates. And although the new series doesn’t have a host standing in the shadows, I’d like to volunteer for the job if they ever decide to add one!

Have you watched the new "Unsolved Mysteries" reboot yet? Which case interested you the most?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Visit her website at
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6 Ways to Jumpstart July and Write

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

As of yesterday, July 1st, we are half way through the year. I don’t know about you but I have been slacking off in the writing department. I know. I know. Give yourself space. Give yourself grace. Treat yourself with loving kindness. 

That’s all well and good. But I need something to do other than check Facebook. I’ve been crocheting and I’ve got plans to knit tonight, but I’m generally much happier when I write. 

If that sounds familiar, here are 6 ways to jumpstart July and get back to your writing. 


One of my favorite writing challenges, Storystorm, takes place in November. I tend to do it now and again throughout the year. The goal is to brainstorm 30 writing ideas in 30 days. This is a good one if the kids are missing camp, you or your spouse are working from home, or you are otherwise up to your hips in the glory of 2020. It doesn't take a lot of effort. When you see something that sparks an idea, write it down. 

Camp NaNoWriMo 

In April and July, participants sign up at the NaNoWriMo web site for Camp. They set a month-long goal for themselves and get to work. This is great if you need external deadlines. That writing project you’ve been talking about doing in 2020 but haven’t started? Why not sign up and set a July goal for yourself?  I'm there as Nonfiction Writer. 

Something that Won’t Be Published 

If you are a working writer who happens to be out of work at the moment, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about writing that will sell. This challenge can help you rediscover the fun and the play of writing. Craft something you won’t market.  For me, this means poetry. Earlier this week, I played around with an In One Word poem. You can find a wide variety of poetry types to play with at the Poetic Asides blog.  

30 Queries 

Maybe you are someone who has a vast number of completed manuscripts. Or you’ve been talking about finding an agent. All Freelance Writing challenged writers to send out 30 Queries in 30 Days. Imagine that – 30 agents, 30 magazine editors, 30 editors, or any combination. Me? I need to query agents. Click through above and you’ll even find a tracking worksheet. 

30 Blog Posts 

Or you might be a blogger who has let things slide during the uncertainty that has been 2020. If so, try writing 30 Blog Posts in 30 Days. That’s another All Freelance Writing challenge. It can help inspire you to update your blog’s content or just to plan ahead so that you aren’t scrambling the night before a post has to go live. 

Run with Something 

New Maybe, more than anything, you need to run with a manuscript that is shiny and new. Instead of working on my novel or querying an agent, I spent two days roughing out a new picture book. I could say that I made this choice because it is a story about identity and isn’t that a timely topic. But really? I just needed to work on something new. 

We are half way through 2020. Don’t let that panic you. It’s been a stinker of a year all around but the redemption arc should come into play any time now. Right? Right?! 

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  July 6th, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 6, 2010). 
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Watch Out for Overwriting: Once is Enough!

If you're a children's or young adult writer, do you ever ask yourself: How many times do I need to tell young readers important facts in my novel? Do I have to do it more because I am writing for kids and teens?  The best answer is just like you would in an adult novel—kids and teens are smart—sometimes, we don’t give them enough credit, which can lead to overwriting.

Overwriting is when you tell and retell, and then even show (and maybe even retell again), a character’s emotions or a reaction to an event. Overwriting tends to slow down the pace of your novel and bore readers—some readers may even be offended that you feel like you have to tell them so many times the important points of your book.

Beginning children’s novelists and picture book writers can really struggle with this before they get to know their audience well and put trust in them. These young readers will figure out plot points and character emotions without being told again and again. Think about this: if you handed a fourth grader a new smartphone and handed the same smartphone to his mom, who do you think would figure out how to use it first? When young readers and teens are interested in a story and love characters, they don’t need overwriting to understand the story. Picture book readers have the text and the illustrations to help tell the story. Trust them! They’ll get it.

Here’s an example of overwriting from my own writing. I am using the characters from my middle-grade historical fiction novel, Finding My Place, set during the Civil War’s Siege of Vicksburg; but hopefully, I do not actually do this in the novel (although the draft probably had passages like this or worse!). This passage could have easily appeared in a rough draft:
Anna didn’t think she would last another minute living in a cave. She hated the cave! Her brother and sister detested it, too. Her brother said, “I hate living here.” Her sister cried every time they went into the cave. Anna felt nauseated when they entered the cave to sleep. She felt sick to her stomach when she lay on her mat. What was she going to do? How could she help her sister and brother? She didn’t know what to do. She hated the cave.
Has anyone ever written something like: “She felt sick to her stomach. She was nauseated,” like in the above example? I find myself taking the same idea and wording it in a different way—or saying the same thing in my dialogue and my dialogue tags, such as: Martha felt horrible about lying to her parents. “Why did I lie?” she said to her brother. “I feel awful about it.”

In picture books, writers hardly ever have to tell readers how a character is feeling because the illustrator can show that. Sometimes for the sake of rhythm or explaining a concept, an “emotion” sentence will be included. But this should be the exception, rather than the norm.

I’ve overwritten more times than I can count—and I hope I catch these overwriting spots in my revisions or with the help of my critique group. Most of us tend to overwrite in the first draft. When we’re working on word count or exploring the emotions of our characters, we get wordy and repeat ourselves (as well as forget to show and not tell). The great news is that revision is the place to concentrate on fixing these simple and common mistakes.

When you have a spot where you think you’re overwriting, choose the strongest image or the least wordy one or even the example where you do the most showing instead of telling. Most of the time, you only need to tell a reader one time about an event or a character—unless you’re repeating words or phrases on purpose as a literary device.

One spot to really watch for, especially if you have an exciting YA novel or a middle-grade mystery,  is when you write an action scene for readers, and then later in the story, a character is asked about what happened. The character should not retell the entire story. Readers already saw it unfold. For example, let’s say one of your characters witnessed a convenience store robbery when he was buying a candy bar. He talks to police after the robbery, but all readers need to know is something like this:

After Officer Davidson asked Rob what he saw, he tried to remember as much as he could. Did he see the face of the guy? Rob told the officer what he heard and what the guy had on, but that’s all he could come up with.

Remember, readers are with you, and they get you. You don’t have to tell them too many times—so, I’ll stop now, too.

Margo L. Dill is teaching her WOW! novel writing course with a writing coach this summer, starting on July 3 and on August 7. To sign up, go here. Her next class for novel writers for middle grade and YA readers starts on September 30. 

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