Monday, April 29, 2019

See Ya, I'm Outta Here...

By Charlotte Bennardo

This month: Advice to Beginning Writers.

My advice: Recognize when to throw in the towel. To quit. To walk away. To leave it behind.

Forever stop writing????

What kind of advice is that????

Did I say give up writing? No.

What I said was recognize when to quit: a story that is only partially written, that you can't get past a certain point no matter how hard you try. That means you either need more research, time to let the idea percolate into a full story, or know that it's not enough as it is and it's just sucking up your creativity and time. Think of the story of the boy putting his finger in a hole in the dyke. He stopped the leak, but now can't go anywhere, he's stuck. It would be stupid to spend his whole life with his finger stuck in a small hole, just as it's dumb to spend months, years, working on one story that has such a fatal flaw. Walk away. Maybe in a year or several years, you'll be able to fix it, but don't waste your life on one incomplete idea.

Walk away- from writer's block. Sitting at a desk trying to force the creativity rarely works. If your story is about animals, go visit a zoo. If it's about a historic figure, take a field trip to a museum that features that person. If it's about the moon, go to the NASA website. Just walk away from the laptop/desktop/paper. Breathe in fresh air, unclutter your mind, and don't stay chained to the desk.

Quit- letting time sucks steal your precious writing time. Okay, you've got kids, jobs, obligations; most of us do. Don't volunteer for everything in your kid's classroom, or for their team. I do a lot of work at my church, but it's (usually) for one-time only things; one day to water the plants in the summer. One day to clean the grounds. By volunteering for a one-and-done activity, you don't have the guilt that you didn't help out, yet you get to keep time for yourself and your writing. Even at home, there has to be time when housework, kids, spouse, family, pets, NOTHING can interrupt you. You may have to work your schedule around when people are gone or asleep, but do what you must to hoard as much time as you can. Plenty of writers get up super early for 2-3 hours of quiet, uninterrupted time (because who the heck gets up at 3 am to bug someone for food or whatever?)  Quit any activities that aren't as important as your writing.

Leave it behind- if a writing project is making you anxious, or stressed, or anything but excited, then it's time to leave it in a drawer or closet. Anyone who feels that writing is a chore, or a drudge, or something to get done and out of the way is in the wrong business. Personally, I hate multiple revisions (first 3 are okay, after that, I just want to be done; I have other stories to write). But I don't let that steal my joy of that story, nor for the next one because I can't get right to it. Even when I'm doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where you write 1,667 words a day, every day, during one of the busiest months- November), I still find joy in the writing. It's the same with people. If you have a critique group, an agent, book club, or even a friend who is stealing your joy, it's time to leave them behind. Life is short; there is only so much time to write and enjoy life, and then there's that proverbial bus waiting to run you over- don't put off or deny yourself the joy of writing.

Photo courtesy of Liam Anderson, Pexels, Inc. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019


One of the best pieces for writing encouragement I ever got was from Betty, a lady in Oxford, MS. She was a friend of my uncle’s and was helping me contact locals for a story I was writing about an employee of William Faulkner’s. The magazine I wrote the story for ended up not running it, but I loved the content so much (tons of priceless interviews from Faulkner’s family members and contemporaries) that I kept trying to find another home for the piece. One day when I was telling Betty of another market I’d tried, she said, “Girl, you are like a dog with a bone! You just don’t give up!”

Talent is a wonderful thing. But all the talent in the world won’t get you a finished manuscript or a publishing deal. The key to both of those things, in my opinion, is persistence. If you want to continue writing, you have to be relentless. You have to be that dog with that bone and clench your jaws tightly and not let go.

Now’s the part of the story where I tell you that I found the perfect home for the Faulkner piece and won some sort of award and basked in the accolades of the masses. It never happened. Or perhaps I should say, it hasn’t happened…yet?

I still have that piece. I wrote it in 2005. I’ve moved on to other pursuits in my writing career, but I haven’t entirely given up on it. I always feel that I never really abandon most of my projects, but I do put them on the back burner because there are only so many hours in a day and days in a week, so one has to prioritize. The main thing, though, is that even if you don’t finish or sell one particular piece, you don’t let that be the end for you. You move on to something else. You keep on writing.

To move from the dog with a bone to another analogy, think of basketball. I am short and uncoordinated and have no skill at basketball, but there’s a basketball goal in my backyard. Even though I lack athletic prowess, if I go outside and try for a while, I can ring the basket once or twice. But if I were to practice daily, if I were to ask people who are good at basketball for tips, if I were to read about how to become better at basketball, then my chances would increase exponentially.

Writing isn’t exactly the same, of course, but I do think that with practice and persistence, you will find your own unique voice.

So throw that ball into the net, or clench your jaw and hold onto that bone, or think of it however you like, but keep on.

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


You can’t become a writer simply by reading. You can’t. No more than you can read a book about basketball and expect that to make you a great basketball player. 

You have to do it. You have to write. You have to put your rear in the chair. You have to write short stories. You have to write poems. You have to write books. 

You have to get feedback. You have to take it in. You have to look critically at your own work. You have to revise. 

You have to get more feedback.

You have to write more stories. More books. 

You learn by doing. Not by thinking about it. Not by studying it. Not by watching others do it—if that were the case, we’d all become better ball players simply by watching televised NBA games.

You have to write. 

It’s hard at first. It is. It is so hard to just get started. Getting started gets easier as time goes on. 

But you have to do it. You have to dribble awkwardly. You have to chase the ball across the court. 

After a while, the ball stops feeling so foreign and strange in your hands. You can race down the court. 

You have to write clunky sentences. You have to. In order to eventually write beautiful sentences.

You have to do it. You have to write.

But then something miraculous will happen: You'll become better. No--not just better. You'll become good. It will become part of you. And you'll know: Whatever else happens in life, you'll just have to write. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

To Create Empathy, Exercise Your Imagination: Smack-Dab-in-the-Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Emotional intelligence is now considered to be as important for children to develop as traditional intellectual intelligence. One component of emotional intelligence is the capacity for empathy. So that has me wondering--can you have empathy without having imagination? To understand another’s situation, don’t you have to be able to imagine yourself in their shoes? If that’s true, shouldn’t we also be cultivating imagination?

One of the best ways to do that is through writing stories about other people. Imagining yourself as the first person “I” of someone else’s story does put you in their shoes. An interesting writing exercise for kids would be to have them think of someone they don’t understand, or dislike (not someone in their school!) and then write a story from that person’s point of view. What is the other person’s story? What is their life like? And perhaps generate empathy by asking the question prompted by the famous (and variously attributed quote), “be kind because everyone is fighting a hard battle.” What battle is that person fighting that might give you insight into her reasons for doing what she does?

To create empathy, exercise your imagination.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

So You Wanna Be a Writer

Eights tips for beginning writers:

1.  Start with a Dream.

2.  Immerse Yourself in the Genre You Want to Write.

3.  Feed Your Creative Soul.

4.  Mine Your Memory.
(My elementary school)

5.  Learn From Experts.

6.  Make Some Writer Friends & Start a Critique Group.

7.  Learn to Love Revision.

8.  Never Give Up.

Happy Reading & Writing!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Dear Young A.M. Bostwick

Dear Abigail,

You love to write.

You know you do.

You started writing before you truly knew what it was. Before spelling made sense, before books created entire worlds in your head, before the newspaper had a purpose, before books filled your shelves and the space under your bed.

You’ve loved stories since as long as you can remember. Hearing them, telling them. To the dog, to the cat, to your sister, to the trees. Maybe most of all, to yourself.

You’ve always been creating, somewhere inside of you. All that creation will have one outlet for you that will never be rivaled by another: The pen and the page. The keyboard and the monitor. The little corner of your mind you keep for Ideas.

Keep writing.

Don’t give up.

Elementary school will be tough, and it will tire you out. You won’t want to tell yourself stories at the end of the day when you can’t figure out your math homework. A girl named Emerald will laugh at you for writing in a notebook at lunch instead of gossiping with the others girls. Junior high will challenge you, but it’s also where you’ll start to find your favorite authors, authors who inspire you to not only keep reading, but to start writing in that notebook again. And maybe another. The teacher who tells you you're the best writer of your year, will stay with you for life. High school will harden you, and you’ll think writing is a superfluous path that will never give you a real job or real purpose. A guy named Matt will laugh when he comes across your screenplay draft and ask if that’s what you do for fun.

Ignore them.

Listen to the beat of your heart. Listen to the scratch of your pen. The buzz of light bulb that you write by deep into the nights when no one else is around. Except the cat. And the dog. Plus yourself, who all have always listened.

Forget, when in college, people will tell you story-telling is for hobby writers and dreamers who never make it anywhere and can't afford to eat.

Keep that unfinished file.

Keep that notebook.

Keep their sparks of life that haven't quite formed to a full literary fire yet.

And when life corners you, through circumstance and declining health, and through years you cannot find anything to comfort you but the all the stories you’ve ever told yourself – and the ones begging yet to come out – keep going. Ask for help from other writers. Authors. Librarians. Friends. Family. Ask. I know you don't like to.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

You’ll get there. You got there. And you’ll keep going, even past this.

And never, ever, stop reading.

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Remember Joy

Dear Beginning Writer, Dear Veteran Writer, Dear Writers Everywhere,

There is really no reason to be a writer if writing doesn't bring you joy.

I think writing does bring joy to most of us. But too often we fall into the trap of thinking that writers are supposed to be suffer, agonize, starve in garrets, bleed onto the page. We find ourselves competing for the misery prize, trying to outdo each other for the accolade of being named Most Miserable.

Although I love much about Annie Dillard's brilliant book, The Writing Life, I have to accuse her of a being a notorious offender in this regard. Here are two of her observations about the writing life.

A neighbor politely asked her about her writing. "I said I hated to write, I said I would rather do anything else. He was amazed. He said, ‘That’s like a guy who works in a factory all day, and hates it.’ Then I was amazed, for so it was. It was just like that.”

And this:

“This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence’s head while its tail tries to knock you over. Several years ago in Florida, an alligator wrestler lost. He was grappling with an alligator in a lagoon in front of a paying crowd. The crowd watched the young Indian and the alligator twist belly to belly in and out of the water; after one plunge, they failed to rise. . . It took the Indians a week to find the man’s remains.”  !!!!

I recommend instead the view of writing espoused by Brenda Ueland in her equally brilliant book, If You Want to Write. She tells us to "stop thinking of the creative power as nervous and effortful; in fact, it can be frightened away by nervous straining.” In fact, she dismisses this perspective on writing as "all fear and conceit." 

Whereas Annie Dillard claims that it takes ten years to write a book, Ueland doesn't recommend laboring over our writing. She says, “there are wonderfully gifted people who write a little piece and then write it over and over again to make it perfect – absolutely, flawlessly, perfect, a gem. But these people only emit about a pearl a year, of in five years. . . . But this is all a loss of time and a pity. For in them there is a fountain of exuberant life and poetry and literature and imagination, but it cannot get out because they are so anxiously busy polishing the gem. And this is the point: if they kept writing new things freely and generously and with careless truth, then they would know how to fix up the pearl and make it good, in two seconds with no work at all.”

Ueland's image of the writer is not a Seminole alligator but this: “you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.”

I choose to live my writing life like Brenda Ueland. Let’s stop competing to see who can be the most miserable. Let's admit - to ourselves - and to our colleagues - and to the world - that writing is - yes, FUN! It makes us happy! We love to do it! It's not always easy, and there will be crippling self-doubt, and fear of rejection, and actual rejection, and the dark nights of the soul. But there will also be joy.

Let's remember the joy.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Letter to a (Soon to be) Published Writer

Robin LaFevers wrote one of my favorite inspirational pieces, a letter to Soon To Be Published Writer (April, 2014). Her advice is as timeless as her novels.

“And you, there in the corner, looking everywhere but at me, afraid to believe that your time is almost here. It is. You’ve been working hard, for long years, carving out time, pouring your heart and soul into your work, perfecting your craft, and, maybe most important of all, not giving up. So yes, your turn is coming. It’s just around the corner there where you can’t see it, but it’s heading your way. It might be here in two months or maybe two years, but it will be here. Unless you give up. Then it will never arrive, so whatever you do now, don’t give up.”

Don’t. Give. Up.

LaFevers highlights several important points to remember (my paraphrases):

You will experience a series of firsts—first phone call offering representation, first phone call with an offer of publication, your first contract, your first check, the first time you hold the physical book in your hands. Savor each moment.

Remember, you have not left all your problems and heartaches behind. You have simply traded one set of problems for a new set. Anxiety is normal.

Find a way to separate the act of writing from the business of publishing...When you feel wrecked and broken and raw from the writing life, use it to create authenticity in your writing.

“When you wake up in the dark hours of morning, or toss and turn unable to sleep for the fears and insecurities nipping at your toes, find a way to pour that into your writing. Let it feed your work and give it urgency. I said urgency, not desperation.”

If you can find your way back to the work, the work that you love, then you will always—always—be able to find your way home and re-center yourself.

The perfect companion to LaFever’s letter is J.K. Rowlings speech to Harvard graduates. She discusses the benefits and the importance of failure – and by extension, rejection – to her success:

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life…

"Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies...

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
Keep writing!

Bobbi Miller 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Showing Up....and Up....and Up

This month’s theme is Notes of Encouragement to Beginning Writers, and I'm going to focus my little bits of advice on the importance of persistence in this industry. 

1) Show up. A lot. 

When I encourage writers to show up, I mean it in two ways. First, there’s showing up for what I call the art of the art—the writing itself; the disciplined butt-in-chair time; the drafting and endless revision required to push a book out of your head and onto the page. 
But then there’s also showing up for the business of the art—which is to say, the business of getting and staying published. That means studying the markets, taking classes, going to workshops, joining SCBWI, attending conferences, etc. In my experience, the people who make it in publishing are the ones who manage to give sufficient energy to both halves of that dichotomy. 

2) Keep an eye on the big picture. 

When I was new to kidlit and publishing, I was really good about showing up, in both of the ways I just described. But the mistake I made was in putting too much pressure on every effort I made. I wanted to come away from each conference with the name of an editor who was interested in reading my work. I wanted every workshop to yield me a Great New Book Idea. I wanted all of my networking opportunities to palpably broaden my professional network. 
The fact that it didn’t go that way disappointed me at the time, but that’s only because I wasn’t looking at the big picture. And in the big picture, without quite knowing it, I was, in fact, doing the right thing. I was showing up, and showing up, and showing up, not so I could score a distinct win every time, but so that I could eventually find myself in the right place at the right time. In my case, that turned out to be a summer manuscript workshop, where I happened to meet a guy, who happened to know an editor, who (as it turned out) happened to be looking for a writer on a new fantasy adventure series that just happened to be right up my alley, and which turned out to be my first published novels. 
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I always go back to the truth in a favorite quote of mine (paraphrasing), that the harder I work, the luckier I tend to get. 

3) Persistence is everything; it’s also the one thing you can control. 

Trying to break in, especially with the larger traditional publishers, might feel a lot like banging your head against the wall of an ivory tower. The industry can seem very inhospitable from the outside, and those people inside that tower can seem disinterested, disengaged, or even downright mean sometimes. 
Here’s a secret: They aren’t. Seriously. 
I have worked with a dozen or more kidlit editors over the years, and I’ve liked them all, as people. They love  books, good stories, and kids, just like I do. And guess what else? They are looking for you, too. They want to meet authors. They want to publish good work. And they want to have long, productive relationships with people who share in those same interests. 
If you read the trade publications and engage in social media, it can be easy to become overwhelmed at the Impossible Odds Of Breaking Into This Business. And yes, it’s hard. And yes, there are no guarantees. But I will tell you this much: persistence is everything in publishing. It's also the one thing you can control--how much effort you put in, how dedicated you are going to be to that work in progress, and how often you decide to show up for all of it... which brings me full circle, back to showing up. The fact that you are here, right now, reading this blog, means you are at least somewhat ahead of the pack. So keep going, and don't give up! 

Happy writing to you all! 

Forgiveness and Writing

This month on the blog we're sharing words of encouragement to beginning writers. Here is one of the most inspiring sentiments I've ever read, by author Ann Patchett, excerpted from her essay, The Getaway Car:

"Stop here for a few breaths and think about this, because it is the key to making art and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.

"Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let's face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time.

"Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.

"Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can't write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself."

I absolutely love that quote and remind myself often of Patchett's words. Excellent advice for a beginning writer, and every writer.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels, from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Her fifth novel publishes in May 2020. Find her online at