Sharing creativity

My kids know I carry tiny purse-sized notebooks around to scribble out my rough drafts. (Moleskines are perfect—they’re the right size and they have built-in bookmarks and elastic closures—though WritersBlok notebooks are nice too.) This means they also know my works-in-progress are available if they get bored in a restaurant, waiting for their entree. Then they’re happy to provide feedback: “I like this. You should publish it.” “I read this part. Didn’t you finish it yet?” “WHAT. Why did you change it? I liked it before!”

Most recently—and yep, at a restaurant—my daughter flipped through the notebook to find a picture book idea I’d never finished. Because sometimes you start working through an idea, only to discover it isn’t working on the page as well as it did in your head. At that point you can 1. start over or 2. ditch it and focus your energies elsewhere, and that particular idea had been ditched. My daughter disagreed with my conclusion. In fact, she thought she knew how to end it, and could she write the ending? I said sure.

So she borrowed my pen and wrote the rest of the story. She got exactly the idea I’d been going for, too. And now I have written proof that she thinks highly enough of my work to want to be part of it.

Of course, she’s already appointed herself editor of all my work and has offered to illustrate it. So she’s a little ambitious.

The other day, I needed to bring my son with me to the coffee shop; he had his magazine and a muffin, I had a scone and revising to do. Once he realized what I was working on, he craned his head to see my screen. Then he moved to my other side to read my notes before I’d even gotten them typed in. Then when I was done, he asked to read something else. At which point I ceded control of my laptop and let him read my novel till it was time to go.

Sharing my work with them has been one of the best things about writing kidlit, not just because they like reading it but because they’re pretty creative in their own right. Both of them create their own comics. Both of them make art, everything from paper sculpture to pottery. It’s such a pleasure to see them expressing themselves. And maybe, possibly, they’re encouraged by watching me.

I don’t know where this creative path is going to land us, but I’m enjoying the journey.

Keep going

I’ve been collecting rejection letters on my manuscript, and it’s frustrating.

I spent most of last week on the phone with the school about my special-needs son’s behaviors. Also frustrating.

The news is, of course, a Dumpster fire.

But I will keep going regardless. On trying to find a home for my story, on helping my son, on being a good citizen, on standing up for what’s right.

It is totally fine to take a break, to stomp around the house, to burrow into a pile of comics and ignore reality for a while (OK, your coping skills may differ from mine). But then you get up and you keep going. You keep trying to do better. You keep working toward your goal. You take the frustration and the rejection and you become stronger because of it, and you keep going. Because you have to, and because it’s the right thing to do.

And that’s what I’m going to do.

My best to all, and may we all achieve our goals.

Working big to small

Between two book editing projects, a few smaller editing projects, my usual newspaper gig, and a case study, August was unexpectedly busy. But here I am, and I’m looking forward to more busy-ness in September (as well as a break from all the heat advisories).

In the meantime, I’ve been revising a few stories of my own as well as working on the next story, and beginning research for the story after that. And I keep relying on advice from my drawing teacher.

Nope, I am not a professional artist. I have just enough talent to know how much more I would need to be a professional artist. But I love art in all its forms, from gallery paintings to comics, and I take art classes for fun. My teacher for the past few sessions is an excellent artist, helpful in all aspects of technique, and there are a few things he says regularly. One is that you have to study an object pretty thoroughly before you can draw it, instead of just glancing at it and rushing your pencil into action. Another is that you need to work “big to small”—that is, sketch in the big shapes first, figure out where all pieces are in relation to each other, then start to add in the details.

Turns out his advice works pretty well for writing, too. Even pantsers—and I am definitely a pantser—have to know a few basics before they start writing in earnest. Be a reporter: Know the who, what, when, where, why, and how. In other words, study before you draw.

And work out the character arcs, plot, beginning, and ending before you stress about the color of the curtains in the living room, or whether you’re using the right word to describe the sound of your protagonist’s voice in one scene. Sketch in the most important things first, and swing back later for the details. Work big to small.

I didn’t expect to get good writing advice from art class, but I’m calling it an extra-credit lesson, and will use it to the fullest.

Happy reading and writing this month.

The editor’s eye

Editors read differently from readers and writers. We’re scanning for tone and consistency, for factual accuracy, for fully realized character arcs. But we also read differently from each other.

Some editors are excellent at spotting spelling mistakes and clunky sentences, but read right over “and and” or other repeated words. Or they’re not well versed in older phrases and don’t know it’s “with bated breath,” not “baited.” (Seen it happen.) Or they don’t remember which prefixes are hyphenated and which ones aren’t, and need to perpetually check the dictionary and/or stylebook to be sure. (OK, that one’s me.)

We all have particular misuses and grammatical sins and problems, from big-picture issues to the smallest commas, that we’re best able to spot and fix. And because we all see different things, we can complement each other. This is why having multiple editors on an article or manuscript is the best-case scenario. Every new set of eyes is another chance to make the writing the best it can possibly be, whether that means a developmental editor plus a copy editor, a copy editor plus a proofreader, or multiple copy editors. We tend to work alone, but we do work best as part of a team.


I’m sure you’ve heard about the newsroom shooting in Maryland. I worked in newsrooms for 20 years; journalists are my colleagues. While at work, I used to morbidly wonder what I would do and where I would hide if a shooter burst in, and I’m horrified that this secret fear has become reality for the victims and their families.

Please support local journalists. We need them, more than ever. #buyanewspaper

Kidlit wisdom

So it’s been a horrible couple of weeks to cap off a horrible year. There are plenty of sites to check out if you want to help those in need this summer:

And since it’s technically already hurricane season, let’s preemptively add:


Just to start.

The thing I keep thinking of, at a moment when caring about other people seems to be seen as some sort of liability, is my favorite passage from “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.” 

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”

When I first read that, years ago, it struck me as a true thing, one of the truest things in the book. It’s still true. Like and equal are not the same thing. We don’t have to be alike. But we are still equal. And we, all of us, should be treated that way and should treat others that way.

Enjoy the sunshine, and be safe.


On being a generalist

I’ve attended the occasional business networking event where other attendees have taken it upon themselves to critique my business model. “You’re too all over the place,” they say. “You should specialize in something.”

Those other attendees, of course, weren’t writers.

As a journalist and assigning editor, I’ve had to become knowledgeable about a lot of different topics pretty quickly. This means I have 1. ferocious focus, 2. strong research skills, and 3. a constant sense of curiosity about practically everything.

Just in the past few years, I’ve written about real estate and home design, agriculture, health care, hearing issues, wine production, art, computer theft, and the Caldecott/Newbery awards. (And that’s just the day job/nonfiction side of my work.) I like the variety because I like learning new things and hearing such a wide variety of stories, because that knowledge will make my fiction writing and editing even richer.

There absolutely are writers and editors who specialize in a particular industry or a specific topic, and that’s fine. I may eventually decide to go that route. But being a generalist is also a valid choice and can lead you down any manner of interesting pathways.

And those networking events? I haven’t attended any lately. I’ve been a little busy.


First of all, May the Fourth be with you!


Yes, my droid wears a top hat. He is fancy.

Second, it’s been a busy month.

I wanted to revise my MG novel-in-progress so that I could submit the revised version for a critique at the upcoming NJSCBWI conference. My beta readers had given me great feedback, I’d done some more research, and I knew a whole lot of things I needed to add. Meantime, I also had my usual daily and weekly deadlines for the various editing and writing projects that make up my day job. So I worked on those projects during the day, then revised the novel at night. All month.

This was a fairly doable thing. It was a matter of mindset, and minding the time. I’d spend mornings on one article or editing gig, break for lunch, switch gears to another project, then switch gears again at night and work on the novel. Working on one thing continuously for all that time might have gotten exasperating, but flipping to different projects kept me sharp.

I don’t think multitasking actually exists, at least the way people think of when they use the term. But I think you can finish anything if you work on it an hour (or two) at a time.

I made all my deadlines, including the submission date for SCBWI, and then I spent a day remembering what TV looks like.

And then I flipped back to the first draft of another novel-in-progress. But now I get to take my time a little more.