Guest post by Samantha Brown, edited for clarity
Hi, my name is Samantha. I was born five weeks early with brain damage.
At a little over a year old, we learned I have Cerebral Palsy. Then at the age of four, my parents discovered I had epilepsy after having a seizure that threatened my life. I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The doctors said my life would not be normal. I would not do things like others, and I would not finish high school.
But now I'm 24 and I beat the odds.
When I was younger and first started school, people would turn or look away from me. I felt shy and nervous. You should take the time to learn about someone because you never know what they are going through. You need to see the bigger picture. Sometimes the hardest roadblocks we face are the ones that can't be seen clearly by others. Remember words can change the way someone thinks or feels, and it might become easier to talk about what you came from.
The challenges we face in our lives make us look at the blessings we have been given. It can help bring you to where you belong with a brighter outlook on what can happen. Use your own voice to bring back the joy, happiness, and blessings of the world we live in.
Guest post by Christina Dankert
Fifteen years ago, I remember walking around my college campus and stopping to look up at our eight story, beautiful campus library. I was working on my degree in Early Childhood Education and this library had the best children's floor filled with books, puppets, educational games, die-cut letter and shape presses, and other materials we could check out. I knew then that I wanted to write a book and I wanted it to be in that library for future aspiring teachers to check out and read to their students.
Fast forward a few years into my teaching career. I began as a kindergarten teacher and then moved to second grade. I love working with young children as you have the opportunity to not only teach academics, but life lessons. After a few years of teaching, I had my own children. Between my children and my students, I was reading A LOT of picture books. There are so many books available regarding character traits, kindness, and empathy, which are some of my favorite books to read aloud. However, I failed to find a book on kindness that included the idea of being kind to ourselves. This is when the idea of The Kindness Machine began.
I envisioned the writing journey to be effortless and that someone would magically scoop up my story and run with it. The world of writing is a true test of grit, patience and perseverance. I wrote my story over the course of a few months and had what I thought was a solid beginning, middle and end of a children’s book on kindness. Now what? What was I supposed to do with those words?
I contacted our local children’s librarian who helped steer me in the right direction by pulling books such as Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and Guide to Query Letters. I quickly found out that this process of getting a manuscript submitted, accepted and published would include a lot of research.
I read books about writing children’s books, I listened to podcasts, I read blogs, and attended a Women in Publishing virtual conference. I asked friends, family and co-workers to read my manuscript as beta readers and honestly critique it. That may be one of the most challenging steps in the writing journey. No one wants to be challenged on their work but more importantly, no one wants a rejection letter either. It is easier to take honest and constructive feedback from your early readers and modify your work than get a rejection letter. I am beyond thankful for all of my beta readers as they all took my work and helped polish it.
Through the Women in Publishing Summit I was able to not only gain a wealth of knowledge about the publishing industry, but I found my writing tribe. I met a group of ladies with hearts of gold who understand the writing journey, who have faced rejection, several have published books, but all of them had a goal to publish the piece they were currently working on. The support and motivation from these ladies has been incredible and we continue to meet via Zoom twice a month.
After years of dreaming, months of writing and researching, I am happy to report that The Kindness Machine will be available for pre-order on November 13, 2021, which is World Kindness Day. The absolute icing on the cake in my writing journey, is that my husband, Chad, is the illustrator. He is able to take the words and bring them to life through his amazing illustrations.
The Kindness Machine takes place in a second-grade classroom with an engaging and energetic teacher, Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson loves to build special inventions for his students to help teach concepts in engaging ways. He builds a kindness machine and it is here that his students learn how to be kind not only to others, but to themselves as well.
As adults we struggle with this idea of being kind to ourselves. We are our own worst critics. If we can teach children to be kind to themselves at a young age, imagine how strong and confident they will be as adults.
To anyone with a story idea, my advice to you is to write it down, spend time editing and allow other readers to give you feedback. The feedback is not an attack on your writing, but if you invite the right readers into that space to help you critique it, they are giving you feedback because they want you to succeed. My other piece of advice is to find your writing tribe. Your family and friends will support you, but your writing tribe will understand each phase of your writing journey.
Most importantly, don’t give up. Your story has a place on a bookshelf. Your story needs to be told. Your story needs to be shared with the world. Keep writing, be kind to yourself and I can’t wait to read your work.
Christina Dankert is a second-grade teacher. She has a passion for literacy and believes that we can change the world by reading to the children in our lives. Click here for free kindness bookmarks for teachers.
Instagram: @Christina Dankert
Guest post by Jessica Williams
How do I find the time to write? Seriously.
I get up at 6:00am. Dogs are begging to go outside to do their business. Lunchbox packing. Then breakfast has to be made. School homework. Was that done last night? The husband is asking about a favorite pair of socks he can’t find. The mountain of dishes are still there from the night before. And your child is yelling for mommy about where his shoes are!
I have a zoom meeting with the boss at 9:30am. And now it’s 8:00am, and magically I can somehow do all of that, and get a shower and somehow not injure myself while shaving my poor hairy legs! Oh yeah, and I have to drop the kid off at his first day at school! I almost forgot!
Me? Time to write? You’re funny.
But amazingly, I do find time to write.
It will sound crazy. Maybe even insane.
But I do find time for my most favorite hobby in the whole world....writing!
It’s my favorite type of therapy. And heaven knows, I desperately need my therapy!
And if the day is full of chaos and people not leaving me alone! Well. There is one place, that I can guarantee 5-8 minutes of solid writing time. It may not be much! But it’s better than nothing on those days.
That’s right, you guessed it.
The bathroom! There’s even a seat in there for Mama to sit down and chill for a moment!
Don’t have a notepad? No pencil? No pen? No problem! Me neither.
Tug that little piece of handy dandy technology right out of that pocket or bra and open a draft email and start typing whatever comes to mind, sista’.
There’s no rules. No games. No chaos.
Just you, being you. Writing from what is coming from your soul, your heart, and your mind. All those raw, real feelings and thoughts that are not being judged or interrupted.
It’s amazing how fast I learned to type on my iPhone.
While sitting on a toilet.
I know. It’s not the most beautiful image in your mind. Neither is childbirth. But you know what?! Mama has to do what she has to do!
And if sitting on the toilet for an extra five minutes to obtain sanity or peace (or both), then have at it, love.
You deserve it!
As a matter of fact, you’re quite possibly sitting on your toilet right now reading this. Oh I get it. I understand. I really do. I’m right there with you, girl. Now if you could just figure how to play 20 minutes of relaxing music while enjoying that warm shower without a pair of fingers knocking on the door asking, “Mom!!! Where’s my Pokémon cards?”, you would probably win the lottery.
I. Totally. Get. It.
I truly do.
It’s why I’m sitting on my own toilet right now writing this to you. There’s my secret. For the whole world to know and hear. My secret writing place is not a tiny laundry room, like it was for Stephen King when he was a struggling writer.
It’s a toilet.
Jessica Williams is a Freelance Writer at Citrus County Life Magazine, Prevention Coordinator at Anti-Drug Coalition of Citrus County and Contributor / Writer at Celebrations Magazine.
Guest post by Tami Lowe
At our basic level of knowledge, we know that literacy is an issue in the United States and across the human landscape. We also know that the obligation to read to our own children is very REAL. We may even feel guilt about that, in the form of: “Am I doing enough?”
Without getting into your psyche of self-talk to steer you away from feeling insufficient as a parent, how can I help you and your child?
To Parents and Caregivers:
Gone are the days where reading was done from paper in candlelight, or only at schools.
The Lexile Framework for Reading is used across the U.S. and the world as a measuring system to monitor and assess the levels of reading in children. Specifically, it is used in Florida, where I reside.
Generally, kindergarteners are expected to be reading at Beginning Reader (BR) Lexile Level. The range for first grade has number levels of BR 0-185. Unfortunately, there are children who start first grade at Below Basic levels. What am I talking about?
Perhaps the important thing to know is that teachers are measuring reading levels of kids, and also levels of books, and matching them up. According to Julie Barb, a first grade teacher in Livingston County, Michigan, the other children are not supposed to know what levels their classmates are at, but they often do. The teacher might use colored bins to keep the levels separated, but everybody knows: She reads better than I do, and they read worse.
Pediatricians recommend parents start reading to children in their infancy. There is a cadence and a flow. The mind internalizes and creates pathways with the sounds. The sooner we start reading, the better.
There is research to support benefits to human brain connectivity of writing with a pen versus typing to a screen. I was not aware: reading from a screen has also been shown to be related to lower reading performance in school-age kids through adulthood.
Though paper is still ideal, as a parent or caregiver of any kind, providing more words on every medium cannot hurt. Universally, let’s turn the closed captions to ON in the settings of all of our screens. The brain will see the words, along with all the colors, shapes, and sounds. It’s a simple setting adjustment that can give our kids a better chance at recognizing and using words.
If you are not a parent or caregiver:
We hear stories of people giving what they truly can in this effort. A barber shop in Pennsylvania pays one dollar to children when they sit in the chair and read aloud. Tiny book shelves are installed near sidewalks for neighbors to exchange family books.
I volunteer for Florida Writer’s Foundation (FWF). The FWF fundraises for grant money which they award to literacy programs in our state. Access to books is a consistent goal for many organizations and volunteers in our communities. To get books into the homes of children on every street and part of town is a worthy goal. If you have an idea for helping in this effort, you can submit a grant proposal found at our website, floridawritersfoundation.net. These are the stats we use under our letterhead on our donation forms:
“Twenty-five percent of Florida’s fourth graders do not pass the yearly reading assessment, and 60% are not at reading level. Twenty-five percent of adult Floridians read at an eighth grade level or lower and one in eight is functionally illiterate. We invite you to join us in doing something meaningful about these statistics.”
What can we do to help? First, establish your own sphere of influence, at the core. Then add a layer when you feel good about leveling up. You’ll know when you’ve got that core solid. I encourage all of us to reach beyond our homes, to find the one. The ripple effect is incalculable. Of course, giving to others brings happiness and purpose to us as well.
Thanks for reading!
Tami Lowe is a digital marketer, writer, and blogger. Her book, MAKING SPACE FOR ME, MY MORMON ADOPTION STORY, was published in 2018. As a Board Member of the Florida Writers Foundation and Chair of their Silent Auction, she helps raise money for literacy in the state of Florida. Tami is a member of the Florida Writers Association and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is the FWA RPLA Submission Coordinator. She judges for the RPLA competition and for WFWA’s Rising Star Award. Check out her website: tamilowe.com and follow her on social media: Facebook @tami.l.whiting and @Positive.Writing.Vibes, Instagram @peacegenie, and Twitter @tamiloweauthor.
What is the first thing an agent, editor, or reader sees when they start your story? Your sentences. Cluttered prose makes for laborious reading. It’s a distraction from the plot—one that will make people put your book down.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Never use two words when one will do.” You don’t want your sentences to be overly simplistic, but you do want them to be crisp. So, what specifically can writers do to cut down words? Get out the scissors and let’s cut!
(1) Adverbs and Weak Verbs
You’ve heard about adverbs’ reputation. Why the bad rep? Because you can often replace an adverb and a weaker verb with one strong verb.
walked angrily = stomped
said loudly = shouted
While you’re at it, make sure you’re using strong, specific verbs. She glided across the stage gives a better visual of her movement than She walked across the stage.
(2) Was + Gerund
If you are writing in past tense, avoid using “was” and the ‘ing’ form of a verb such as She was smiling. Just use the past tense verb. She smiled. Instead of He was singing to himself, cut it to He sang to himself.
(3) Verb + in feeling
One thing to keep in mind is the reader infers quite a bit. You don’t always need to spell it out. So in the case of sentences like He yelled in exasperation or She sighed in relief, either the verb tells the feeling or the context of the story does. You don’t need to directly state the feeling so just use the verb.
(4) Trimming Dialogue
Dialogue is a place where you want your writing to be on point. It needs to sound like the character is speaking while moving the plot forward. Pretend you have to pay a nickel for every word of dialogue. Make those words count! A few quick trims you can make:
(5) Sense Words
No, not sensory words. Sense words. What are those? Look, feel, saw, heard, noticed…a word telling what sense the character is using. Skip those words and write what is being sensed. For example,
She saw a strange man peek into the garage window. = A strange man peeked into the garage window.
He smelled the sweet tendrils of cinnamon that curled through the air. = Sweet tendrils of cinnamon curled through the air.
Removing sense words not only makes your sentence cleaner, it also eliminates the narrative distance these words put between the reader and the story experience.
(6) Began to/Beginning to
This is a popular phrase to use while writing. Whenever you catch yourself using it, look closely at the sentence to see if it is really necessary. Oftentimes you don’t need it and you want to be especially sure you don’t get into a pattern of using this phrase repeatedly.
(7) Action “As”
Writers occasionally use the word “as” to tie together two forms of action happening within the same sentence. This is another tricky one that requires a good look since the “as” can usually be cut and the longer sentence made into two smaller ones. For example,
As he crossed the room, Marie stood and twisted the handkerchief in her hands. = He crossed the room. Marie stood and twisted the handkerchief in her hands.
He lifted the bowstring to his cheek as the bear emerged from his den. = He lifted the bowstring to his cheek. The bear emerged from his den.
Keep in mind these are tips for getting your writing crisp, not a list of “No NEVER Write This!” Writing concise sentences isn’t easy and takes practice. A good exercise is writing flash fiction, 500 words or less. Be sure to keep those scissors out and make Jefferson proud.
**BONUS - I want you to know that there is another word that can clutter up a sentence that you are writing. Can you figure out what that word is?
This blog post originally appeared on the Florida Writers Association blog on July 2, 2018.
Should you include picture notes for the illustrator in your picture book manuscript? In this video, you'll learn common practice with picture notes and what illustrators prefer.
We are excited to launch a new web series on YouTube called Picture Book Pro: Three Minute Minis. Each video will be approximately three minutes long and will cover one topic in writing, publishing, or marketing picture books.
Our first Three Minute Mini is on audience. Picture books have TWO audiences, unlike most books. To find out who they are and how to appeal to both, check out the first video in the series!
Instructive but punctuated with excitement—a rousing read-aloud work.
- Kirkus Reviews
My husband often gives me story ideas. I usually smile and say, "Great idea, honey," and go back to what I was doing. Most writers will tell you they like coming up with their own ideas, much like a three year old wants to build their own block castle. (Yes, I am the three year old here.) But one day, over a year ago, he said something that had me running for a pad and paper. "What would happen if the exclamation point was the character?" My brain started going a hundred miles per hour picturing all the fun he/she/it would have. Thus, Pling was born. Great idea, honey.
After many drafts and lots of feedback, Pling was ready to go out into the big, wide world. And I am tickled pink with the results. Both Kirkus Reviews and Reader's Favorite have given my little Pling great reviews. Reader's Favorite even awarded it a five star seal! I am so happy my little friend has been so well received and can't wait to hear the opinion of the most important readers, kids!
You can check out the reviews below.
Pling's Party Kirkus Review
An exclamation point is too exuberant to follow the rules in this picture book.
Pling, a smiling exclamation point with an expressive face, must follow an unnamed narrator’s one rule: “He can only be in a book two times.” But dramatic events all around him just seem to call for Pling, from a sudden rainstorm to Baby Goat’s wonderful birthday party, which keeps erupting into action: “Presents! Disco light! Broken chairs! Roller skates! Ice cream! Chewed-up hats! Hot dogs! Confetti!” When the narrator decides that disobedient Pling’s services are no longer necessary, the party becomes glum and lifeless, with dispirited periods rather than exclamation points: “So much fun. All the fun you could have.” Finally, Pling is recalled to end things on a happy note—“but no getting carried away.” Children learning about punctuation can get a good sense of how to use the exclamation point through the contrasting situations that do and don’t call for emphasis. Haughee’s lesson goes down easy, with plenty of creative anarchy for kids to enjoy and sentences that beg to be vigorously read aloud. The skillful digital and acrylic illustrations by Holm are appropriately vibrant, fun, and varied.
Instructive but punctuated with excitement—a rousing read-aloud work.
See the review on Kirkus here.
Pling's Party Reader's Favorite Review
Meet Pling, an exclamation mark in the storybook Pling's Party by Arielle Haughee. Pling makes things exciting for readers but the rule he must follow is that he can only be in a story twice. Let us read the story and start working with Pling.
One day three goats were playing outside in the grass and it started to rain. The goats were brought inside and they decided to have a party to celebrate Baby Goat's birthday. They baked a yummy cake and decorated it with pink icing on every layer and by then Pling had already appeared in the story more than twice. The goats decided to play music. Baby Goat shook her tambourine, Middle Goat tapped the xylophone, and Big Goat pounded a ten-foot drum. The rest of the animals in the party joined them and played other instruments. Everyone played musical chairs after that and it was a rocking party. The rain stopped and the goats went back outside.
Meet Pling is a fun read and introduces young readers to an exclamation mark and they will learn how to identify it as they go through the story. Readers can practice reading and learn where to emphasize and also learn the difference in how a sentence is read when a period is used and when an exclamation mark is used. Sharon Lane Holm's illustrations are adorable and fun and they make the story and Pling entertaining and charming. Arielle Haughee's approach to teaching children about an exclamation mark is unique and fresh and tutors and parents can use this story in classrooms and at home to teach their children about the exclamation mark and its role in a sentence.
See the review on Reader's Favorite here.
There is a multitude of talented illustrators out there. You just need to know where to look. Besides knowing exactly where to find these amazing people, there are other considerations you need to take into account before diving right in. The first question you need to answer is...do you even need to find one?
Read on to discover the answer as well as many different places you can go to find an illustrator.
Do You Need to Find an Illustrator?
The very first consideration to make is if you are the one who needs to find the illustrator. If you plan on submitting your story to a publisher, large or small, they will be the ones choosing the illustrator. If you will be indie / self publishing, you will be able to select your artistic partner in your endeavor.
A frequent question that pops up when I mention this is: will I get to have a say in the art if I have a publisher? The truthful answer is most likely not. Presses have an art director whose job is to make sure the art and the words flow together. Some smaller presses may let you have some input, but it will vary from press to press. So if you want to choose your illustrator, you will need to indie publish.
Make Sure You Find Illustrators, Not Artists
There is a difference between someone who is an artist and someone who is an illustrator. An artist is anyone who makes art. An illustrator, however, has studied art for children as well as the process of creating a story utilizing page turns in a book. It is a specific skill set, much like a handyman can work on general things in your house, but an electrician has a specific knowledge and skill set. The handyman may be able to rewire your entire house, but they would likely not be able to do nearly as good of a job as an electrician. So be sure you are searching for illustrators and not artists.
Consider the Tone of Your Story
Before you begin your search, you need to examine your manuscript and consider what type of art will best match your story. Once you start looking at illustrators' portfolios, you may get swept away in the fun and choose art you like and forget about your story.
When I was looking for an illustrator for Grumbler, I knew I wanted art that was humorous but also conveyed a sense of love. When I found Marina Veselinovic's profile, I knew it was a match. So reflect on your story. What is the tone? If you have a serious topic, you'll want a more somber style of art. A fun, upbeat tone would likely match something more whimsical. Be sure your art matches your story so the book will be a cohesive whole.
Where to Find Illustrators on Websites
The internet is an awesome resource for finding illustrators. You could get lost for hours looking at art. (I certainly do!) Here are the top websites to find illustrators online as well as some notes about each:
Where to Find Illustrators on Social Media
Illustrators are on all varieties of social media, but the best place to find them is on Instagram since it is a picture-based platform. I like to follow accounts that share illustrations from lots of different artists so I can click on profiles and see more art. Here are the top accounts that feature lots of artists:
Where to Find Illustrators In-Person
Let's not overlook good old fashioned networking. Meeting in person gives you the chance to feel out if the two of you will have a good working relationship. (Check out this post by Sharon Lane Holm called What Illustrators Want Picture Book Authors to Know for a glimpse from their side.)
Local writing groups are a great place to find illustrators, particularly if they are for children's writing. Search Meetup or Facebook for events near you. I've met illustrators in person that weren't right for my current project, but I saved their information for future ones.
Finding an illustrator is one of the most fun parts of making a picture book. Enjoy the search and visualizing your words turned into pictures. You will be one step closer to having your story come to life!
This is a common question for first time novel writers, heck even experienced authors wonder this from time to time. You know what you've written needs some work but you aren't sure how to go about it. Worry not! I will be writing a three-part blog series to help you tackle the process of revision and polish up your manuscript.
What is Revision?
Let me start by saying what revision is not: it is not fixing every single issue all in one go. It is completely overwhelming to try and correct the gazillion things you spot in your work. So relax. Revision is done in rounds. The amount of rounds and length of each will vary from project to project.
Revision is also not editing. These two terms are often used interchangeably when they are in fact separate tasks. Sometimes first time authors will picture themselves with a red pen after they finish their first draft, adding a comma here and there as needed. They may think this is the only thing that needs to be done upon draft completion. Not true.
Revision is often described as the "real work" in writing. It is the molding of a bunch of messy words into a true story. It is implementing character arc, narrative pacing, descriptive language, and other elements into your story that are absent from the initial attempt. Revision is not fixing grammar and conventions. That is editing. Editing is done after revision takes place and usually by a qualified editor.
Where Do I Start with Revision?
The answer to this question is not what you may think. You start revision by actually stepping away from your manuscript. That's right. Put your hands up and step away from the computer. You will need to let your work breathe for six weeks. Why? This will give you the chance to get some much needed perspective. When you first finish, you will be too close to your work to see your mistakes. Take the time to write some poetry, read a book, or squeeze in a short story. When it is time to go back, you'll have fresh eyes for your work.
Revision Part One: Taking Stock
Before you roll up your sleeves and dive in, the first thing you need to do is take stock of what you have. You need to do a full inventory in order to figure out what to fix. You will be taking notes for this part, so grab a notebook or open a fresh doc on your computer. Your first task is to reread your entire manuscript from start to finish...without making any changes. That's right. Yes, it will bother you at certain points. But your job is to write down notes for each chapter about what needs to be done, similar to a surgeon getting x-rays, MRIs, and other images done before making any cuts.
The rationale behind this is that there will be larger issues that go across the book or entire sections that may need to be cut. If you dive right in to chapter one, you may be wasting your time when you later realize the whole chapter needs to be omitted. It will also be too late to weave in a subplot you realize you need for the climax when you are at the end of the book. So reread, take notes, and digest your work as a whole. Examine your character arcs, pacing, and overall narrative structure. What changes do you need to make?
This will get you ready for part two...making your revision plan. Check out my post Developing a Revision Plan for next steps!
Want to get even more info about revision? Check out some of my guest posts:
Five Common Revision Problems and How to Fix Them
What an Editor Won't Do: The Myth of the Magical Editor