The Stages of a Writer’s Life or How Not to Retire from Writing

I wanted to be a writer from the time I began to read, and I don’t even remember when that time was–before I started school, I know. I wrote during all of my years in the classroom, wrote for high school and college newspapers and annuals, the college literary magazine, took what writing classes were available. Then I married too young, had babies–distracting creatures, babies–and got sidetracked a bit but never stopped writing. In my twenties I got serious about wanting to sell and wrote my first novel.
I knew that writing was a joy, a labor, sometimes an exquisite pain, but it took me a good while to realize that publishing was a business, and one I knew nothing about. So I wandered in the wilderness for what seemed an eternity, sending out manuscripts and getting back form rejections until I discovered writing conferences. Classes and contacts, information!
Fairly soon I had an agent and then two book sales, and I was off. It wasn’t always smooth sailing by any means, but I’m very stubborn–I persevered during downs as well as ups, kept writing and selling . . . 50 something books later. . .and then a family health crisis took precedence over everything else.
I’d managed to stay afloat through many changes in the publishing world. I’d passed up the safer choice of going back to teaching after my husband died too young. I’d worked day and night, literally, to write and hold a position with a national/international nonprofit writers’ group, I’d traveled to research and speak and promote my books. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it all. But this time everything had to come to a halt, and everything did.
My daughter had three back surgeries back to back, no pun intended, and was ordered to complete bed rest between the second and third. However, she also had a toddler whom we affectionately called the Energizer Bunny and a husband who obviously had to keep his own job, for health insurance as well as to pay their mounting medical bills. So I had to be at their house 12 hours a day. You can imagine trying to write while jumping up every ten minutes to rescue a gleefully manic tot from his rush into doom… After that there were more family health issues, and then, later, I developed some health concerns of my own. And somewhere in there we had the Great Recession and book sales went down across the boards, which didn’t help my career.
So a few years back I decided that perhaps it was time to slow down. That being free of tight deadlines would be a good thing, that it was okay not to feel the need to write six and a half days a week. That not having to get on yet another air plane and fly across country might be a relief–travel is not as much fun as it once was. And I could go to town halls, march in protests, write letters, try to save the country, the planet. Have a life.
And do fun things too. Spend more time with my grandchildren. Have more lunches with friends.. Go to movies, symphony events, plays, special museum exhibits.
Have a life.
But one unexpected thing. After the first few weeks, the ideas came back. The characters slipped into my head, hung off my ears and kicked my cheeks. “Look at me,” they’d say. “I have a story to tell.”
You can’t stop the stories.
The fact is, I am a writer to the bone. It’s not a job, not a profession, even, it’s who I am and who I will always be. So I continue to write. I haven’t submitted any of the short books or novellas–it’s a pleasure to write to my own whim–even though writers do like to be read. I could self publish but I’m not sure I want to go that road–you still have to to PR if you want to attract readers and I’m really awful at self promotion.
But I know as long as my fingers work, I’ll be writing.


by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Happy Fourteenth of June!!!!
That’s Flag Day and my Mom’s birthday. And yes, I know it is September. But I have been meaning to get my blog entry done since June, when it was actually due, and when I knew what I was going to write about.
I am doing a writing experiment today. You probably know about it. You sit at your desk and stare at a blank computer screen or a piece of white paper and think. You do this until blood and sweat run outta your forehead and you get an idea to write about. So far…. Still staring!

Right now I am thinking, where are all those people I meet at parties and tell me they have a really great idea and I should write it. I could use one of those great ideas right now. So far…. Still staring!

Have you ever woken up from a night of dreaming and there is this wonderful idea in your head that absolutely needs to written about? Me either. This morning I work up with an overpowering thought… I am going to be 80 soon. And no, I don’t want to write about it. I don’t even what to think about. So far…. Still staring!

I have 64 years of history with all the (kids) from my graduating class that I met on the first day at Alexander Hamilton Hi in L.A., and that I am still friends with. My oldest friend is my cousin Carol who is one day older than I am and who I met when I was five days old. When we were kids we did so many dastardly things together. I remember when we were 11 and took out pictures in a 25 cent photo booth. They were everywhere. Remember? It gave you 4 small black and white photos. If you are too young to remember, I forgive you. So, for the last shot Carol and I lifted up our blouses. We did even have bras on. No, not to be sexy…we didn’t have anything to put in a bra. Our parents found the picture and my daddy said the people who owned the booth would probably turn them into the police or display them on the booth…There were always pictures on display on the fronts of the booths. Needless to say, that was our last attempt at artsy posing. So far…. Still staring.

I have three cousins that could sing and dance and were on early TV marathons to raise money for some charity. Barbara, Bevy, and Barry. I was so jealous of them. I was a clutz who was tone deaf and only sang in the key of middle C. They once did TV “gig” to the song, Walking My Baby Back Home, and I got to go to the tv studio with them and see them perform. Exciting stuff. Tv was a teeny-screened black and white baby back then. And even though I had been working in the movies since I was 19 days old, I was impressed. Yup! So far…. Still staring.

It was sometime around then that FBI came to our house to arrest my brother, Stevie who was four years old. Seem he had made the FBI’s most wanted list for stealing mail from all the mailboxes in our neighborhood and stashing it under his bed. Social Security checks too. I was disappointed when the Feds left without him. Growing up I broke his arm twice and god him hit by a car and did other terrible stuff. So far…. Still staring.

So, you see why my blog is so late. I have nothing to write about. Not one idea. Just me and blank computer screen. And So far…. Still staring!

Ideas All Around

How do you find ideas for books? Many of my young adult or middle grade plots came out of newspaper stories. (Runaway, Shadow Self) Some came from incidents suggested from my days as a classroom teacher or from incidents that happened to my own children. I also found ideas from my own life. (The biggest pitfall here is that you have to remember to update a lot of the superficial stuff unless you mean to make the story a period piece. Clothing, music, amusement, electronic devices, social mores, so much will have changed.)
I’ve recently been working on a book about a teen in a military family, a background I know well. I grew up as an army brat, relocating and changing schools often. I moved eighteen times before I left home for college. Mostly it was to other military communities, but I also know what it’s like to end up in a small rural school where everyone else has known each other forever and you’re the lone new person, as happens to my main character. I made his case worse–always up the ante!-by depriving him of his dad, who died a hero, giving him a lot to live up to. The story also deals with how he is targeted by a school bully and wonders if he’s a coward, unworthy of his father. A lot of the story I could draw, bits and pieces, from my own experiences.
Happily, I didn’t lose my own father in that manner, but I was separated from him by calls of duty for long periods, thirteen months at one point, and it was very hard. I cry when I see on television children surprised by returning military parents. (I also think it’s rather unfair to film these kids!) So I know a good deal about the emotions my main character is going through, and authentic emotion is always a key to a good story.
You may not have been a military brat, but I’ll bet you have stories from your own life that could be taken and altered slightly, adapted to make a good starting place for a plot. Pull out your memory book and take a look!




by Judy Enderle

Okay. First want to let you know that Laurie missed her post month because of a manuscript revision deadline and a family wedding and company, company, company. She’ll make it up when she stops running and can sit down for awhile.

Now, about this post, which is late!!! Here are the reasons:

  1. Stephanie was moving and I had to help her pack.
  2. My son needed gardening help so I had to dig.
  3. Stephanie was moving and I had to help her pack.
  4. I had a stomach ache.
  5. Stephanie was moving and I had to help her pack.
  6. I was tired from helping Stephanie.
  7. Stephanie moved and I’m helping her unpack.
  8. I haven’t had time to write. (Guess why.)
  9. Life got in the way: I had to get a haircut and pay bills.
  10. Stephanie moved and I’m still helping her unpack.

Life doesn’t change when you are a writer. April! The beginning of a new month. Well, another round of bills arrived. (But I don’t need my hair cut again—yet. Instead I have a doctor’s appointment and my six-month dental checkup.)

Excuses pile up and they keep coming even if they change names. But that’s life. You have obligations and you need to take care of yourself and your family and friends. So don’t beat yourself up when life gets in the way or you are helping a friend or your idea well seems to have run dry. Help out. Fulfill your family obligations. And it’s even a good idea to take a break because you need one.

This week enjoy spring, watch the birds build their nests and marvel as the flowers open, survivors of a long and cold winter. Take a walk or swing on a swing and you’ll soon be inspired, refreshed, and ready to get back to the keyboard.


by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Nothing new for me for the new year. No New Year’s resolutions made and broken on January 2nd. No new projects started. No new friends made. No new furry pets adopted. Just me and Izzi, my barky significant other, and what sounds like a lot of the same old same old.

Truthfully, I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in over 50 years. Mainly because I have never kept any I did make. That’s right…none. I haven’t started any new projects because I haven’t finished the ones from 2018, and it’s winter. I haven’t made any new friends because I am still happy with all my old friends, and it’s winter. Who goes out in a real Northwestern winter with rain storms and gale winds and impending snow avalanches to buy project stuff and make friends? Ok, I exaggerate, a little. It hasn’t snowed. Oh, and I haven’t adopted any new furry pets…yet!

So, what’s new? More and more all the time. New ideas. New outlooks on life. New approaches to my writing. And a new realization that there is nowhere I would rather be, and no one I would rather be, and nothing I would rather be doing. The same old same old feels pretty good to me. I say, forget resolutions. I will type 10 new pages every day. I will go to bed at nine p.m. to wake up rested and ready to write. I will walk the dog at lunch with a sandwich in one hand and a pencil and paper in the other. I will not stray from my course and turn on my Kindle Fire. I will stay at my desk until I have fulfilled every promise I have made to the Writing Gods.

Or just maybe I will stop putting a ton of pressure on my writing life and just write. Now that is a novel idea.


We hope that 2018 has been a creative and successful year for everyone and that 2019 is even better. So CHEERS TO OUR FOLLOWERS, TO WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS EVERYWHERE.







HAPPY NEW YEAR from the MAVENS: Cheryl, Dawne, Laurie, Stephanie, and Judy                      



The Mavens

      Your manuscript is completed at last and you feel it’s ready for publication. Now what?

Laurie Knowlton:

How to choose a publishing path?
Technology has opened the door that made self-publishing not only acceptable but commonplace.
There are many avenues available for writers: Trade publication, self-publication, work-for-hire, e-books, online blogs, online magazines and more. Only you will know the right path for you by researching the field
Consider what is your end goal?
Do you want a book for your family members? Or do you want nationwide distribution?
Does the publishing house you are working with provide: artwork, editorial input, hard cover, soft cover, e-books, international distribution and translations, royalties or work for hire, escalation clauses, royalty payments that are connected to past books? The list goes on and on.
That is why research is the best answer. Then you will be able to make an informed decision. Last but not least: Ask other authors, and read books on the pros and cons.
One last tid-bit: Amazon provides a book titled Decide, Self- Publishing –Trade publishing.

Cheryl Zach:

Publishing paths: More exist than ever before. This is not necessarily easier for the new writer, it may be more confusing. You can still submit traditionally to agents and established publishing houses, at least those that will take unsolicited manuscripts. Do your homework. Even editors from ‘closed’ houses will sometimes take queries or partials from people who have attended writing conferences where the editors have spoken.
There is also self publishing, including epublishing, which is more acceptable than it once was, but still has some drawbacks. The most prestigious awards still are not open to self published books.
You will also have to all the work yourself, from designing and setting up the book to PR and distribution. It’s one thing to manufacture a book, another thing to actually sell it. Not many book stores are eager to take books whose quality has not been vetted through the traditional process. Self pubbed books are also harder to get reviewed. Amazon will publish and sell books from your manuscript, but it’s a crowded virtual warehouse!

Dawne Knobbe:

Publishing Paths: There are many paths to publishing your work. No matter how you end up published- by a traditional press, or self-publishing, marketing yourself and your work is the key to success.

Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon:

No matter which path to publication you choose to introduce your book and yourself to the world, both will take patience and perseverance. Trade publishing as well as self-publishing will both require marketing skills. Research both areas and decide what suits you and your book.

If you choose trade publishing, investigate small publishers and large publishers. Go to the bookstore to discover what types of books each publishes, how the books are designed, what topics or genres each publisher produces.

You may find it beneficial to search for an agent to represent you and your book and help you negotiate a contract. Many publishers deal only with agents and don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from writers. After signing a contract you will receive an advance: money up front that will be worked off with a percent of each book sold. Once you’ve worked off the advance, you’ll receive royalties. A trade book must continue selling well in order to stay in print.

If you choose self-publishing, do thorough research on the many avenues available. Hiring a content and copy editor may help you get the polished work you want. If your book has illustrations, you will have to contract with an artist. You will wear all the hats in the publishing world besides being the author. Know ahead of time what your approximate costs will be. If you are fully informed and up to the challenge, there is no reason you can’t be successful on this path. Many authors find this approach satisfying.

Most important is to explore all avenues to publication and BE INFORMED so you choose the right one for you and your book .




The Mavens

  Revision, taking another look and polishing your writing. Here’s what the Mavens have to say– from what it involves to when to stop:

Judith Ross Enderle: This part of writing is the frosting on the cake; cleaning up the crumbs, adding swirls of sweetness, getting your masterpiece ready to present for consumption. Revision shouldn’t be rushed. It may involve any or all of the following: major rewriting; moving sentences, pages, paragraphs, even chapters into a different order; tossing out some of your favorite lines; the realization that in some parts you have too much story and in others not enough; and always a careful search for repetition, double verbs, awkward dialogue tags, and phrases at the end of sentences that don’t add anything to the story. If you’ve been away from the manuscript long enough, you may see places where you’ve forgotten to give the reader important information, places where you go on too long with either dialogue or description or both, places that are too slow and places that just plain don’t work. Your first draft was good, but with revision your second draft will be better, and after that you will revise for the best. Some manuscripts need only one revision, while others may need five or more.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon: I NEVER REVISE said no published author ever.

I think of revision as a trick of the trade.  My trade.  Your trade.  The Writing for Young People trade.

You write your story and suggestions abound.  Everyone has a better idea.  Your agent has input.  Your editor has input.  Your writing group has input.  Your best friend, your husband, your kids, your mother, the check-out lady at the grocery store, they all want to tell you what is right AND what is wrong with your story and how to fix it.  You listen, smile, nod your head, think about what they said, good and bad, even take notes.  It is YOUR story, nevertheless.  Apply what works, clarifies, enhances and improves your work.  In the end it really is just YOUR story and you must stand behind your craft.  So, what to do with the stuff you don’t need?  Shredders, compactors, garbage cans (do people still use cans?), and recycle bins were invented to hold suggestions, critiques, and opinions you do not want or need.   Hear, think, apply, but listen to your own head first!
Happy revision…or not.

Laurie Knowlton:   7 Tips to Revision, Where to Begin?
Once you have completed your manuscript it is time to revise. But how?
Read your manuscript out loud.
It will help you catch gummed up sentence structures.
It will help you listen to your character’s speech for uniqueness of voice.
Check and cut: overused words, weak words, and too much description.
Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you have trouble with these there are how to articles on the internet that can help.
Bring your manuscript to a critique group. Fresh eyes can help you see your manuscript in a new light.
Ask yourself does my story question match a satisfying ending?
Let your manuscript set for a bit after you have completed these steps, then go back with fresh eyes and review again.
Revise as many times as it takes to get it right. DO NOT RUSH the revisions process.

Cheryl Zach: Revision is an absolutely necessary part of the writer’s process. Once the rough draft is down, if you’re lucky you’ll go over it and then have a critique group or partner to share it with, in person or on line. If not, put it aside for a few weeks or even months and then view it with a fresh eye.  Of course, you want the grammar and usage to be correct, allowing for realistic dialogue. Books such as Elements of Style are helpful. A lot of my revision goes into tightening. Taut writing is often most effective. Get rid of unnecessary tags, (the he said, she said bits) unless you write for the very young. Remember you want to show, not tell. Use action and dialogue, use sensory details to make the setting vivid. Let your own voice shine through. Then put it aside, and do it all again. And again.

Dawne Knobbe: Revision: You know it is time to stop revising when the words you replace are no longer making your sentences more powerful.




The Mavens

STUCK?  Don’t panic! This happens to lots of writers, sometimes in the middle of your book and sometimes as you struggle to revise, following your critique group’s suggestions or while working through the feedback from your editor. Breathe!

Here are some tips from the Mavens on how to get unstuck:

Dawne Knobbe: Stuck? : Eat cookies, make paper airplanes out of you manuscript. Not helpful? Try picking a fight with your main character.

Cheryl Zach: Stuck? Me, too. Okay, not this minute, but I have been, lots of times. Early on in my career, I’d often get off to a rousing start and then get stuck about a third or even halfway into the story.  It usually meant I didn’t know my characters well enough–pause to do some deep thinking about who your main character is. Look at your supporting characters; maybe one or more need to get in the way–they have their own plot lines to pursue, remember. Perhaps your conflict isn’t big enough to support a novel. Maybe this is the time to introduce a new character, or a new obstacle, or make the conflict harder in some way for the protagonist. Go back and look at what I said about a sagging middle.

If you’re stuck on a new project, ideas are all around you. Make sure you spend time with young people. Read lots of good books, and not just in your chosen genre. See good movies and plays. After viewing The Darkest Hour, I reread William Manchester’s multi volume bio of Winston Churchill–what writing! Go to museums and other cultural events, go outside to parks and the beach and the mountains, whatever is near you. Feed the well. Exercise. It helps the brain function. Meet with other writers and artists. And don’t be too hard on yourself. The Muse will return.

Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton:  5 Ways to get beyond Stuck

Go fill your well! Do something new to you. The experience will get your senses awakened.

Walk and talk. Take your phone and walk and talk (recording) yourself through questions about your story question.

Spend time volunteering with the age group you are writing for. Listen to their jargon. Watch their mannerisms. Be aware of what they are worried about. Observe what they get excited about. Ask them about what concerns them.

Sit and read a starred review book. Analyze what makes it work. Is the story character or plot driven? What is the heart of the story? How does the main character grow and change?

Meet with a critique group. Being around other writers who are producing can be contagious. Also other writers may be able to help you get over the hump in your manuscript.

Judy Enderle: Unstuck tricks to try:
Stay calm. You may feel as if you are sinking in quicksand, but if you were it would be best to keep cool, to ease back and float until you reach solid ground. Same with being stuck in your writing. Sometimes floating for a bit will help you get to solid ground and go forward.

Ask your character what to do next. Write down all the possibilities then choose what makes most sense for your story.

Brainstorm with your critique group. Many heads might help you find a good solution.

Skip the place where you are stuck and start writing again at the place where you know what will happen. You might figure out what to do with that stuck spot or perhaps realize you don’t even need the place where you are stuck to make your story work.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon: Ask your dog; dogs are good listeners. Take a walk (your dog will like this, too. Eat chocolate. Have a cup of tea and biscotti and pretend your main character is there with you. Read the KidsBook Mavens blog for some good ideas. Most important: DON’T GIVE UP!


The Mavens


  We’ve made it from the beginning pages, through the middle, and now we are reaching the LAST PAGES. These will NOT be the last pages from the Mavens, however. Read on:

Cheryl Zach:

In one writing org I belong to, it’s said that the first page will sell the current book to your reader, the last page will sell your next. So what do you need on your last page? A satisfying ending, obviously. Have you truly wrapped up your problem? Did the main character, the protagonist, resolve the problem him or herself? Not a helpful adult–that’s fatal–not the best friend, not an act of fate, the ‘god from the machine.’ Are the emotional conflicts resolved as well as the physical? You may not want too neat a wrap up, it may not sound realistic, but you do want the reader to feel that the story is really resolved, or readers will never feel completely happy with the book. (Mind you, I have written at least one book with an ‘open’ ending (RUNAWAY) in that one important question was left unresolved because the two main characters couldn’t agree. Some books are just like that. You do what has to be done, or at least, what your characters demand. I hope in this case, the novel was still emotionally satisfying–the book did well, in any case, winning an award and selling well.)

Now, having admitted that every rule has an exception, what else can I say. If it’s a mystery, solve the mystery and don’t cheat and introduce the villain on the next to the last page. If it’s a fantasy or science fiction, stick to your own rules of logic. If you’re going to do something truly awful, like kill the protagonist, at least give some foreshadowing.  That’s my rule, not everyone will agree. The late great Madeleine L’Engle, author of WRINKLE IN TIME and other award winning novels, said that writers for young people owed it to their readers to leave some hope at the end of their books. I agree. Not everyone does.

Last Pages: The ending is always important–you need to leave the reader satisfied. Has the protagonist resolved his/her problem/conflict, with only minimal help from others? Is it not too neat, so as to be unrealistic, but without too many loose ends? Have both the emotional/internal and external conflicts been dealt with? My daughter always says the ending needs a certain emotional punch, as well, that little extra something that may send you away smiling, or with a tear in your eye, but feeling content, none the less. You should feel that the story just couldn’t have ended any other way. The character was true to him/herself. The problem obviously had to end this way. There was a twist you didn’t quite see coming, but it was just what needed to happen.  And again, no, I didn’t say it was easy.

Dawne Knobbe

Last Pages: Writing your last pages early helps you to know where you are trying to end up.

Laurie Knowlton

Your last pages must:

Make sure every question you set up early in the book is answered, even if the answer isn’t positive, or finely wrapped up like in: Scarlet O’Hara, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Do not use some out-of-the-world twist ending where someone comes out of nowhere and fixes everything. Your reader isn’t going to buy it and they will feel cheated.
No matter how many wrong turns, and bad decisions your main character may have made getting to the end of their story, allow those decisions to be the learning curve that brings your main character to a state of redemption
Use those little details that you’ve sprinkled through the text to assist in the ending. You want your reader involved in the ending and they will value the use of those details in the solution.
Resolve the story with a satisfying ending that is hopeful. Readers want to feel good at the end of a book.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon

The end is The End is THE END! And please don’t skip the end by telling rather than showing, then moving right to “and so they all lived happily ever after.” This will cause your readers to toss the book into the air wanting to know “WHAT HAPPENED?” Readers want to see, to participate in the finale the same way they’ve participated throughout the book.

Wind up your story in the final pages by showing the growth of your character through action and dialogue. The problem may be solved or the character may have accepted that this is a problem that can’t be solved and moves on with life. This shows growth, too.

Resist explaining, resist adding what happens the next day or years later, resist. But if you insist or your character refuses to take a final bow, make notes for a possible sequel to the story that has come to an end, for some characters can be so stubborn they refuse to exit the world you’ve created and some authors love their characters so much they refuse to let go.

Judith Ross Enderle

Wipe your tears. Just because you’ve written your last pages, just because you’ve written The End, just because you’ve sighed and celebrated the completion of your first draft, this isn’t the end. Writing a book isn’t over until it’s over. And usually it isn’t over until you’ve revised and revised and revised some more. So those last pages . . . might not be your final last pages; they are probably your first last pages. Yup! Upcoming in the fall months: What to do if you are Stuck, Revision Tips, and more.