WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DATED?

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

OLD PICS ARE THE BEST PICS

It might surprise you to know that I date a lot. At seventy-six, I believe I date more than most women my age. I cannot get enough of dating. I probably date a little each and every day. And I suppose there’s many of you, older and younger, who also love to date. My favorite dates are Scottish, Irish, and some English dates, but I can also get enthralled with American dates—although most of my American dates are much younger than the others. If you have never tried dating, you should. It will enrich your life more than I can say.
I do much of my date research on the internet, but my favorite research comes from old books and newer books about earlier times. I am a dating junkie. I can’t get enough historical information on the dates I love most. That would be the 9th century to the 17th century. I don’t know what I love most about dating, the researching or the reading for pleasure.

I like biographies, but lately I read those mostly for factual information on specific times. Also bios have information that can help me visualize my fictional characters. I am a fiction writer, so manipulating the real characteristics of a long dead Scot is exciting and challenging. And because I am not bound by the truth, I can include a bit of the blarney.
In another life I was Egyptian, and Hebrew, and German, and English, and Scottish, and Irish, but not all at the same time. Historical research may talk out loud to me in particular because I am looking for the parts I played in the history of mankind. I know I was at Mount Sinai when Moses read the Ten Commandments. Now that is way back when.
Bringing history to life for readers is opening new worlds to them, no matter how old those worlds are. I believe that many writers are beginning to see the historical trees that have been over shadowed by the forests of sci-fi and apocalyptic books that are filling the bookstores’ shelves. I loved CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and every book I could get my hands on about medieval history. And I have to confess . . . I read adult books set in eras like Catherine’s. I began many eons ago in England and have traveled across the British Empire to Italy and beyond. Of course Scotland has a special place in my heart as my name is Scottish . . . Gordon. Right! After it was Gordonski or some such, and then my ancestors got off the boat.

I know very little history of my own family, when my ancestors came from Russia, Lithuania, and Romania. The children of my grandparents wanted to be “real” Americans. My father and mother and uncles and aunts asked very few questions. Their parents handed down very little of who and what they were in the Old Countries they came from. I actually know more about my mother-in-law’s family, where they came from and why, than I know about my own. Maybe that is what drives me. That could be the very reason I date so much. Even the reason why I feel as if something is missing and needs to be done when I am not dating. No matter what I am reading or writing, I am waiting to date.

Join me. Enter into the world of dating. It is not too late. History will always be there waiting for you to discover.

PRESENTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH MAVEN CHERYL ZACH

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CHERYL ZACH, AUTHOR OF SOUTHERN ANGELS

1. How much research did you do and how deep did you have to dig to make the Southern Angels series feel authentic? What was your best source of information? What was the hardest information to find?

I did a great deal of research for the 4 book YA Civil War series, Southern Angels. All in all, I spent three years researching and writing the four books. I did as much primary research as possible. That means info from sources who lived during the time period of the books and who wrote letters, newspaper stories, private journals or diaries, and they give the best look at the time period. The only downside is that you have to take into account that everyone will have his/her own bias. Three people who knew Lincoln would have three different opinions of his characters, for example. I did also use secondary sources, i.e., history books about the Civil War where the authors have done their own research and gathered it together into a book such as The Civil War in Virginia, and so on. These authors will use footnotes to show their sources, which helps me judge the value and accuracy of their material. Although my books are fiction and more concerned with romance and relationships, and what happened on the homefront–where women and girls had a challenging time during a war happening all around them–I still wanted the background to be accurate.

2. What made you decide to reissue the series yourself and did you find the self-publishing path difficult?

I decided to reissue these books because I think they are among the best of my young adult novels, and because I put so much effort and time into them and I hated that they were out of print and unavailable. In particular, the fourth book was never printed by the New York publisher who originally put out the books–loooong story there, basically that I lost my editor who moved to another publishing house and thus lost any support–and I had many unhappy readers who never found the final book in the series. I wrote an earlier column on doing it yourself–I had some problems early on, but it wasn’t too hard overall.

3. Why did you choose to write the books as a series rather than as one long novel?

I wrote four medium length books because I showcased four girls, to give as many views of the conflict as possible. Elizabeth is from a wealthy Virginia plantation but has a domineering, cold-hearted father. She originally supports the South, but falls in love with a Yankee soldier and changes her views on the war and on slavery. Victorine is a Creole beauty from New Orleans who is a die hard Confederate, though she also becomes more enlightened about the evils of slavery. When New Orleans falls to Yankee rule under General ‘Beast’ Butler, she is almost thrown into prison. She will reject the man her father has chosen for her to marry in order to make her own choice. Hannah is enslaved, grows up alongside Elizabeth on the Stafford plantation. She aides other slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. Though she has sworn never to marry while she is still a slave and her children could be torn away from her, she falls in love with a free man of color (some did exist in the larger Southern towns) and eventually makes the dangerous race toward freedom herself. And last, Rosamund, the Tennessee girl, lives under Yankee rule after Grant has taken the Tennessee valley. She has one brother in the Northern army and one brother who supports the South. Although her family has never owned slaves and she supports the Union cause, she finds it hard to live under a conquering army, especially when despite herself, she falls in love with a dashing vagabond Confederate soldier. The four books cover the conflict from the first cannon fire upon Fort Sumter (three of the girls are attending a boarding school in Charleston, SC.) to the end, when weary soldiers finally make the journey home. And all along, the girls grow and mature and learn that they can make a difference, each in her own way. And love may survive, despite the peril and uncertainty of war.

4. What do you want readers to discover and take away from reading about the civil war? What makes this period of history fascinating to you?

The biggest theme of the books is that what an individual does, the actions a girl/woman takes, does matter, and that you can make a difference.
The Civil War itself, parts of the country fighting against other parts, was an exercise in tragedy and futility, something we might remember.

5. Does this series fit into the school curriculum and at what grade level? Will you be doing a study guide when the series is complete or will there be a separate one for each novel?

I am putting a study guide on my website, http://www.cherylzach.com,/ which would be helpful to teachers, home schoolers, and reading groups. Schools study the Civil War, depending on the state, often in 4th or 5th grade, again in middle school, and in the junior year of high school. These books are rated 6.5 in reading level, but good students usually read above their grade level, and as a former high school teacher myself, before I stopped to write full time, I know the difference in reading levels between middle school and high school is actually pretty small. As for the interest level–well, I’ve had letters and emails from readers from pre-teen to adult!

6. How long will readers have to wait for the next three books?

All four books are now available, in ebook and trade paperback, from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other retailers. Hearts Divided is Elizabeth’s story, taking her from Charleston to Virgina and back to Charleston. Winds of Change sees Victorine home to New Orleans and then farther afield. A Dream of Freedom gives us Hannah’s tale and finishes Elizabeth’s love story, and Last Rebellion takes us to Tennessee and Rosamund, last of the girls to find her true love, and gives us final glimpses of all four girls

7. What one bit of advice would you offer writers who want to write historical fiction?

Finally, my advice for a would-be historical writer: history is a wonderful tool for the imagination. With so much going on, you never want for ideas. You need to do your research in order to make the background and settings accurate, but beware of allowing the research to slow down or stop your story–keep the pace fast and stay focused on your main characters–even if George Washington did sleep here!

WORD GENES

by Judy Enderle

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Where does it come from, the love of words? Are word lovers born or created? Maybe both.

In my family, my parents were both avid readers. Until his death at a 101, my father was a weekly visitor to the public library where he checked out the LARGE PRINT books. Give him a good adventure, action, suspense, mystery novel or a historical biography and he was happy. My mother was an English teacher and it wasn’t unusual to receive a letter from her with a “story idea” for her aspiring author daughter. She also loved crossword puzzles as much as books and passed that love along to my sister and me. Words!

As life moved ahead, my children and I visited the library on a regular basis. They all loved science fiction and fantasy as well as animal stories. I took writing classes, met my author friend and writing partner, Stephanie. Publication happened first with “Highlights for Children,” then with children’s book publishers. Words!

More time has passed. I’m now a grandmother. My daughter is publishing books in the adult market to strong reviews. Her books are the type my dad would have loved, full of action and intrigue. Her latest is The Shadow & The Sun. My older son is dabbling in science fiction short stories and a novel is getting birthed. All three of my kids wipe me out in Words With Friends, especially my younger son, and I have to work hard to match wits with both my grandgirls at this game, too. Words!

Yeah! Words! Is it the sound, the meanings, or the challenge of using those 26 letters to create an entire world populated with intriguing characters that makes them so appealing? Most likely all three and more. Whatever it is, word genes thrive in our family. How about yours?

 

YOUR WRITING SUCKS!

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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Warning! A critique group can be hazardous to your health…but only if you let it.
When I began to write for children, I took classes at UCLA. I was not looking for a career. In fact I didn’t have any idea what I was looking for. Whenever I get a desire to try something new, I go back to school. I take classes. That is what I do.
Over the years I have dabbled in many related and unrelated subjects, taken numerous interesting classes from many skilled (and unskilled) teachers, and accumulated a library of “How To” books. I fit the saying, “Jill of all trades and master of some.” I know it is none, but I have mastered some. Along the way I have learned more, experienced more, and discarded more useless information than I can name. Still I have enjoyed the ride that led me to all my diverse areas of knowledge. If institutions of learning gave out medals like the army, I’d have a chest full of them. I’d like that.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn on my path to becoming a children’s book author can be said in a single word, CRITIQUING. No one likes to hear a negative word about anything they love. Especially their children. And for writers of children’s literature, our manuscripts are our babies. Our beautiful new- born expressions of a love for the written word. And WHO are you…to judge my baby?
It doesn’t matter if those terrible words come from and agent, an editor, or a colleague who doesn’t have such a perfect story anyway…so there! We become half Pit Bull and half Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one hundred percent Nose Out Of Joint. It is how you have to react at first. You have just been told your baby stinks. At least that’s what you heard. But, for the most part I can honestly say, that was not what was said.
When you first step into the writer’s bullpen to face the critique bull, you are wearing Medieval armor with a hole cut out where your feelings are, and you are carrying a huge sword to protect yourself. Every non-positive word goes right through your armor and stabs your heart. That is the price we pay to become children’s authors. I wish I could say that is the worst price you will have to pay…it isn’t. But those payments are not what this blog is about.
Writers need thick hides. They need to take everything someone tells them, that they don’t agree with, and practice closed mouth, a still tongue, and a smile. Your brain may be saying, “idiot,” but your face should be saying, “uh huh, oh, thank you for that thought.” You don’t have to do a thing with the critiquer’s ideas if you don’t want to: Hit delete.
Defending your writing will start a battle and a battle can cause a war. There are always casualties in a war. Your critique group could end up dead. Realize that things can be said that might drive you or the other person out of your group. A writer’s group blood bath can poison the waters for a long time and make members afraid to say anything at all to you. A nod and a smile could keep all that from happening.
And if you are the one who is trying to drive home your thoughts regardless of how they are affecting the critiqued writer and implying who the devils cares—because YOU are right—STOP! You could be next. You are setting a terrible precedent. You may be the reason the group disbands—or so they tell you—wink, wink. Yes. You could be right. Maybe the baby needs a change. Say your opinion once and let it go. An argument never changed a hurt heart.
BEST: BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T THINK WORKS—SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO THINK WORKS. EVERY BABY HAS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO DISCOVER. SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO LOOK CLOSER. AND IN A MANUSCRIPT, SOMETIMES IT ’S HIDDEN BETWEEN THE LINES, OR IT ’S THE WORD CHOICES, OR IT ’S THE NUGGET OF AN IDEA WAITING TO GROW.
Being kind is always the best way to treat a new writer, even if her baby is stinky. (And are you so sure your baby’s you-know-what doesn’t stink?)

REALIZATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS

BY JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE

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In January one is supposed to make resolutions to mend one’s ways or achieve greatness or rid oneself of unhealthy habits.

Well, I don’t want to mend my ways; I realize I’m pretty happy with the way my ways are now.

I’ve achieved some greatness and lost some greatness and have landed back in the middle which isn’t a bad place to be. No need to resolve other than to keep moving forward and let the words fall where they may.

So that leaves unhealthy habits, usually involving food and exercise. I can swear off sugar entirely (I’m quite sweet enough), but that would be a wasted swear since I know right well that I’ll still have two biscotti with my coffee in the afternoon. So why waste a swear? As to exercise, I walk and I garden and I clean house, so my parts are moving, not too fast nor too slow. No need to promise to exercise more than that.

Thus I’ve come to realize that this resolution business is more of a taking stock, but it doesn’t mean you have to change a single thing. And how many of the resolutions actually last more than two months? Still, it is the first of a new year. How can I break tradition? So in the spirit of the new year, here are my resolves:

1: Change what I don’t like; keep what I like about me.

2: TRY to be more patient with myself and with others.

3: Make Words with Friends a reward, not a replacement for writing. A paragraph counts as writing, doesn’t it?

4: Make it one biscotti with coffee instead of two. (I know I won’t keep this one. See? A wasted swear.)

5: Be thankful for loving family and friends. This one I can do! I am so very blessed.

6: Get back to work. I can do this right now.

Off to a fine start. Six is a good number of resolutions for a year that ends in 6. May 2016 be a great year for you and yours and good luck with your resolutions. (Save your swears, you made need them when rejections show up, unless you’ve resolved not to let rejection bother you. Let me know how this works out, so I can use it for my resolution next year.)

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

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Over the past two decades I have been asked 4 universal questions by people interested in writing for children. I’d like to share the answers with you.

1. “What can I do to get published?” The answer is:
A. Do your homework.
You need to read, read, read. Read all the HOW TO books you can get your hands on. A few suggestions:
Ann Whitford Paul’s, WRITING PICTURE BOOKS
Barbara Sueling’s, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK AND GET IT PUBLISHED,
Harold D. Underdown’s, THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Lee Wyndham’s, WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS.

B. You need to read books in the genre that you would like to write.
Study the character’s development. What is his motivation?
What is standing in the main character’s way keeping him from accomplishing his goal? Identify the tension tools used to build the plot.
What did the author do to get the reader into the setting?

C. Attend conferences and workshops. Check your local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group. They usually offer conferences, workshops, and critique groups in your area. National SCBWI also offers two conferences every year. One conference is held in California in August and a second conference is offered in New York either in January or February. You can locate the information on the web: www.SCBWI.org

2. “Do I need an agent?” I do not believe you need an agent. You can research possible publishers through the CHILDREN’S WRITERS MARKET. First look to see if the publishing house is accepting unsolicited manuscripts. (This means that they are open to un-agented manuscripts.) Second, see if they are accepting manuscripts in your genre.
After finding a publishing house is open and that looks like it might work for your genre and theme of your story, then research the publishing house on the internet.
Become familiar with the editors. Check to see if they have a blog. This will help you find out: What else has the editor published? What is her passion? What type of book is on his wish list?
Make a list of possible publishers and begin sending your manuscript out. Some publishers require that you submit only to them. This is called an exclusive submission. Other publishers will allow simultaneous submissions.
Always make sure you keep a record of where you have submitted your manuscript. Record the date you submitted the manuscript and if it is returned. If you are lucky enough to get a personal note from an editor, send a thank you note. If they made a suggestion to improve your story, get to work!

3. “How do I submit?” When you finish your manuscript it is important to have it critiqued by your peers or a professional. There are many authors and editors that offer critique services. Check your local SCBWI to see if there are members who have open critique groups or offer critiquing.
Make sure your manuscript is perfect. Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When your manuscript is ready, you will need to write a cover letter.

Use a regular business letter set up. Your letter should be short.
Dear Editor’s Name,
I have enclosed my xxx word picture book: NAME OF BOOK.
Then add some information about your writing history: Example: I am a former librarian and a member of the SCBWI and I participate in the local (NAME OF STATE) chapter. I have been published in the regional newspaper. Close the letter with a thank you for time and consideration.

An Example of proper manuscript format:

Your name.
Address,
City, State, Zip
Phone number
E-mail address Word Count

Center your title half way down the page.
by
Your Name

    Then begin your manuscript. It needs to be indented for every new paragraph.

Your manuscript should be double spaced.
You will need a header starting on the second page. Your header should include your name, the name of your manuscript on the left side and the page number on the right side. Every succeeding page should have the header on the top.
Many publishers request a SASE (Self addressed stamped envelope) so they can return your manuscript. Others say they will recycle the manuscripts so you do not need to send a SASE.

4. “Do I need an illustrator?” The answer is, no. Publishers have a “stable” of illustrators that they prefer to use. They know their illustrators are professionals: Their work is consistent and produced on time.
Let the publisher worry about the look of the book while you do everything you can to produce a quality manuscript. Once you and your editor have polished your manuscript. Start planning on having a book launch!

I hope these answers help you to get your work ready for publication! Good luck with your writing.

MY OCTOBER BLOG

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

file000910989872I belong to an online poetry group, we call ourselves The Cottage Poets (you know who you are). As usual we had taken this last summer off…until the end of October. It was a long hot summer! Each month, one of us takes a turn coming up with our prompt, and then everyone writes about the same prompt. I mention this because the last prompt was perfect since we didn’t begin our after summer return to The Cottage until nearly November. That prompt was…WHY I HAVEN’T WRITTEN. I do not make this stuff up.
My poem was terse and a little funny and a lot true. But it didn’t make me want to write. Thus, my October blog in November. I am writing this now because I am feeling overwhelming guilt. Not for not writing. I have really great excuses for that, and some are true. I have seen more doctors in 2015 that I ever saw from 1940 till December 2014. While the good news is that I have absolutely nothing fatal (except aging), I am not, nor will I be, getting any younger. My guilt is knowing that someone else has to pick up my slack. My fellow bloggers and I are aware of who that will be. Judy, of course. So here I am…writing.
I guess what I am trying to say here that whatever you are feeling, gung-ho or gummed-up, you are never alone. When you are writing, you have other writers who are there for you in so many places. Critique groups are a good place to start. You will become friends, fellow suffers, writing confidants, and shoulders to cry on. You will share insights, information, accomplishments, and successes. There are workshops, classes, conferences, retreats, and more. And when you are not writing, who understands why not? Those same fellow writers, your writer friends, your buddy non-writers in a slump with terminal writer’s block. Writers like me.
So, do we give up? No, of course not. We write blogs about why we don’t write. We write poems to say why we may never write again. We write emails begging for a kind word from a dear writer we know and love and who loves us enough to forgive us for not writing. And then they email back all the reasons they can’t write. What do we do when we have nothing, absolutely nothing to write about? We write about it.
Happy Writing!

How Writers Learn From Reading

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Being a writer changes the way you read. First you read a book to enjoy the story. Then you reread the book to figure out how: how did the author work the magic that kept you turning the pages?

On your second time through treat the book like a class in writing. Look for:

● what happened on that all-important first page.

● when were you aware of the problem and the conflict.

● why you cared about the main character. And if you didn’t care, what made you keep reading anyway?

● what important character traits helped to make the plot work. How were these traits shown?

● the roles secondary characters played. Why was each one important to the story?

● what the author did to put you inside the main character’s head.

● what made you “see” the setting. What part did the setting play in the story?

● how the plot built. How did each page, each paragraph, each chapter move the story forward?

● how the author created tension and conflict.

● surprises. Was there any foreshadowing of these surprises?

● the way the main character solved the problem. How did the main character change? How did the author show both and when?

● the balance between dialogue and description.

● the kind of sentence structure the author used. When were sentences longer? When shorter? And why did the language and word choices fit the story?

● chapter titles. How did they suit what happened in the chapters?

● the book title. Did it draw you in and represent the book well?

Writers never stop learning with so many great books available written by authors who show you “how” on each page.

PURPLE MOUNTAIN’S MAJESTY

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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I am going to be honest here…I have not been writing. I was on a roll for a while. Then the editor we were working with went up in a puff of smoke and the publishing house disappeared. I just lost momentum and desire. Since then, I have avoided writing like the plague. The only writing I have wanted to do…have done, is the poetry I share with my group, The Cottage Poets. And my poems have rarely been warm and fuzzy, they’ve been mostly venting. This last year and a half has been up-ending. I feel like I have been walking on my hands with my head in my underwear. I have not had a clear vision of how I see my life proceeding or if I expect an upward or downward progression facing me in the future. I suddenly don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I can’t decide whether this came about because, after 74 years living in Southern California, I decided to move. A move I felt I had to make for financial reasons. A move that took me away from my family and some of my dearest friends. Or perhaps it is because some of my personal setbacks…like turning 75 this month, finding there was no more cartilage in my knees, learning to live (again) with a fifteen year old (my beautiful granddaughter, Sarah), or because my dog, Izzi, has decided she likes my daughter best and pretty much ignores me.

It is amazing to me, at my age, to live in a place where I don’t know where anything is or how to get there if I find out. Where I don’t know anyone I see, although every lady looks like someone I am sure I met at an SCBWI Summer Conference at one time or another. Where people are genuinely kind and courteous and young and old hold the door for me, waiting patiently while I limp through. Where traffic in my town goes 25 MPH and I am fine with that. AND the scenery is mind-boggling, stunning, peaceful, green-green-green. There are lakes everywhere. Quaint abounds. Vintage is the norm. And I have never yet met a tree I didn’t love. On our meanderings, my daughter Jackee driving, me looking right and left so quickly I get car sick, my favorite exclamation has become OMG! OMG! OMG!

The best OMG! My birthday. It was amazing. Laurie Knowlton came from Ohio, and Dawn Dixon came from Arizona, and Judy came from Bellingham (WA…lol). We partied and laughed and talked and talked and talked for 9 days straight. It was everything a birthday celebration should be. Thank you, Loveys.

My life in Mount Vernon, Washington is everything my life in LA environs wasn’t. I am older than I have ever been before. I am happier than I thought I’d be. I am gearing up for something. Judy, ever positive, hopes it’s writing. I miss my grandkids and my great kids. I miss my friends…you know who you are. I am up here waiting…when can you come by? I’m ready for another party (and it’s a great excuse for not writing.)

REDISCOVERED WRITING

by Judith Ross Enderle

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MAGIC can happen when you clean your office or your desk or your garage files, or when you go through your computer documents.

The magic is in rediscovered manuscripts that you abandoned or that were rejected. (Even happens to famous authors.)

You may be surprised at how good the manuscript was and still is. Perhaps it was rejected because the timing wasn’t right (YA wasn’t selling; yes, there was that time) or there were too many books about . . . or no one was interested in American History (and now there’s a children’s book award for this very thing). Whatever the reason, you abandoned the manuscript.

But another look, fresh eyes, more experience as a writer can make a difference. Old manuscripts can be revived, reborn, become new and better.

As you sort, start a possibility file. And, when you are ready, analyze one or more of these abandoned manuscripts. Ask yourself:

Would the title tempt me to take this off the shelf?
Does the story need to start in a different place or time?
Did I pick the right main character? Did I choose strong names?
What if I changed past tense to present tense or vice-versa? Same with first or third person.
How much do I read before my mind wanders? Why?
Is the pacing off with too much time getting started, a slow middle, an ending that happens too quickly?
Do all the characters sound alike?
Does the main character solve the problem? Is there a problem?
Do I even care about the main character? Why or why not? Is there a reason for every secondary character to be in this story?
Are there sensory details? Is the story grounded?
Will today’s kids want to read this story if I revise it?

While much of this applies to novels, take another look at picture books and nonfiction manuscripts and all of the writing you’ve tucked away in boxes, bins, drawers, and on your computer. Maybe you didn’t have enough for an illustrator to work with in those picture books, but they might be magazine stories. Maybe you need to update your research for that nonfiction project and find out how it fits in the school curriculum. Perhaps it can be made more reader friendly.

Whether you are moving to a new home or doing spring cleaning or just procrastinating about your current writing project, dig deep. You never know what magic might be waiting.