Teachers Write 6/26 Wednesday Q and A

Got questions about writing?  Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, and we’ll have some great guest authors answering – today’s official author guests are Laurel Snyder, Joanne Levy, and Jody Feldman.

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

Note from Kate: I’ll try to be here for Q and A most Wednesdays, too. Please be patient with me if you’re a first-time commenter – it may take a little while for me to approve your comment so it appears.

Got questions? Fire away!

235 Replies on “Teachers Write 6/26 Wednesday Q and A

  1. Happy Q & A Wednesday!

    I have a general question. How do you know when a writing piece is done? I have a short story that I started a couple of years ago in an adult ed creative writing class. My instructor told me I have enough material for it to be a novella, but that’s not what I set out to write! Now I don’t know how to finish it.

    1. Hi Wendy! Great question to kick things off this morning. I think by ‘done’ you mean how long a story should be, is that correct?
      The answer to that is based partly on the story arc (so the story has a beginning, middle and end) and also your gut. If you think making your short story into a novella would just be adding padding to make it longer, it probably really isn’t meant to be a novella.
      Your comment tells me your gut says it’s a short story.

      1. I’m going to play devil’s advocate to Joanne because I know many authors start novels or novellas from short stories. I’m going to compare your question to the answer I give right now when people ask me if I’m going to write a sequel to The Pull of Gravity. Right now, my answer is no. Why? Because I’m not compelled there, because right now I have new or other things to say with new characters and my muse doesn’t drive me there. I’d ask yourself the same kind of questions. When your teacher suggested you had material there for a novella, did you get all excited and start imagining your characters expanding and running with the story, or did you feel “done” with them and like that would be a chore. If you’re looking for material to move you and the short story still moves you, then why not run with it. If you were feeling like you should because someone suggested it, but it’s not where your creative juices feel pulled, move on.

        1. For me, the answer is very different. Because I started out writing poems, and then moved into essays before deciding to write for kids, and because I write in so many genres, things often have to “find” their form. So like, my picture book Inside the Slidy Diner began as a poem, and morphed into a picture book a year later. As a result, things really don’t feel entirely finished for me until they’re published, and even then…

          When to let go is a different question. And I’m notoriously bad at that, so maybe not the best person to ask. But I think you can send out work that isn’t quite “finished” so long as its clean.

    2. I am just chiming in to say that someone else will be better qualified to answer this than I am. There are pencil marks in the copy of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. that I use for readings. I kept revising after it was published, so I am not the one to ask… 🙂

          1. Me three, but something I’ve found helpful–if you think you might be done– is to put the manuscript away for a week or two, and then look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s clear I need to keep working on it, and sometimes I wonder what amazing person wrote that–haha.

            1. Thank you for all you helpful comments! I was away from the distraction of the Internet today, so I tool along a hard copy of my WIP and spent most of the day editing. First, I changed all of my past tense to present tense (I have a tendency to switch tenses while writing!), and then I cut a huge portion of the story (perhaps to use elsewhere some day). It’s still unfinished, but I think I’m closer to where the character is supposed to be. I hadn’t looked at this piece in several months, so that time away certainly helped. Progress!

  2. Good morning!
    I have two questions for you both today.
    1. What do students most want to know from writers? From workshops I’ve been in with my kids it seems they are most interested in how they can become authors of “real books” too. Just wondering if that’s universal (which would be a good thing!)
    2. What was most helpful to you as a young writer?


    1. Hi Kimberly,
      1. In my experience (which is limited, Laurel and others will have much more input) a LOT of kids have dreams of being writers and many are writing stories of their own, either for school or in secret at home or with friends. That’s how we grow up to be writers!
      2. Encouraging teachers were helpful to me as a young writer. I had a creative writing teacher in high school who was also a published author and I couldn’t have asked for a better (or cooler) role model. He was SO supportive of us and never made judgements on what genre we wrote or how high in the sky our dreams were. That made all the difference!

        1. Katherine and Lee Ann, he made all the difference in my confidence as a human and as a writer. He never talked down to his students and encouraged us to dream big. He was (and still is) awesome.

    2. Oh, interesting question!

      1. Yes, a lot of kids do want to know about publication, but I find it varies from school to school. The kids who ask those questions tend to be kids who have already had exposure to authors, and to the idea of publishing their own work. I’ve also had schools where the bulk of questions were about the other authors I’ve met, or about my kids. I think kids tend to fall in line after one another, so the first questions can set the tone.

      ANd as for writing as a kid, the single most important thing for me was my best friend. Having one other person who also wanted to do this crazy thing– to do it WITH me, and to dream about doing it as an adult– made it seem less crazy.

  3. Good Morning,
    Thanks for taking time today.

    Question 1) How do you know when your writing/books are done, as in “this is the best it can be?”

    Question 2) How do you “ignore” all the other great writing that is out there to believe in your work, as a piece that is unique?

    1. Hey Justin,

      If you look above, you’ll see in another answer that I never quite feel like it IS done, so I have to rely on other people for this. I think having beta readers and critique groups is really good for this.

      The second question… that’s not a way I’ve ever thought about it. I guess I feel like my work is sort of “in conversation” with al those other books. Like my books “look up” to the books I love, and aspire to be them.

      I often tell students this:

      There are two facts you should know:

      1. There is no new story to be written, by anyone, ever.
      2. You are an absolutely new and unique voice.

      It’s the combination of these facts that is key. ANd if pondered correctly, can reduce pressure. You don’t have to invent some big new concept. You just have to tell a story (one that’s been told before) in a way that only YOU can tell it. Your very specific lens is what makes the work unique, and what makes it a contribution.

      1. Laurel, thank you for this response. I’ve been thrashing about trying to figure out what to write and how to say something that hasn’t already been said. Recognizing that’s not possible frees me to just write what I want from my own head and heart in my own voice.

    1. Hi Kim, my revision process is pretty involved, so I’m not sure I have one favorite strategy. I read the draft several times, looking for different things in each one, though. First, I look for overall arc and if the story works. I do another pass for characters and if their actions seem true to them. More passes for little things like overused words (that, just, I knew that…) and another pass to add in little details, like sensory experiences (how stuff feels, smells etc) to flesh things out. Then more passes after my trusted readers have read and commented. Many, MANY passes is, I guess, my strategy!

      1. Joanne and Laurel, Thank you for your reply. I teach 2nd grade and find revising to be the most exciting part of writing to teach. My students become very capable at revising and one of your strategies seems to be their favorite-passing through the text and finding places to add sensory experiences. Not all 2nd graders are capable of revising to that extent. For some, just changing a word or crossing out a part seems to be all they can handle. For those that struggle, just getting them to reread is a huge success!

    2. Oh golly.

      I tend to be a messmaker. I write and revise and undo and rip apart and then start all over. For this reason, I find that working with a hard copy is really important. It grounds me. Once I’m done with the heavy structural changes, I’m sure to revise each time with a hard copy of the book in hand. I write everything into the book (sometimes adding inserted pages) before I add it to the digital copy.

      For picture books I work longhand as much as is possible, because the way things lay out on the page matters so much.

  4. Good morning Justin!
    Happy to be here.
    1. Honestly, when I feel like more tinkering is making my work WORSE is when I feel I’m done. My editor may disagree, but that’s when I need help of outside eyes. Then I can do further rounds of editing, but only with feedback.
    2. Everyone is unique. No one tells the same story the exact same way. If you had 100 people telling the story of Goldilocks, I bet you’d have 100 completely different stories. Our lives and past experiences shape us into individuals and we bring that to our own work. Don’t ignore other stuff out there-embrace it and recognize that yours is different, and that’s a good thing! And remember not to compare your first draft to other writers’ finished product.

    1. Wow, Justin, both those questions are doozies! I agree with Joanne, plus, many of us are writers who kind of feel like our work is never done. Never as good as we want it to be. There is never a time when I won’t pick up a manuscript and want to change a word or wonder why I wrote it this way and not that, or see that I wished I ended a paragraph sooner or added more detail… I think for many, that is just the creative process, and, as Joanne says, why it is so helpful to have someone you really trust and admire — the end goal that being an editor — say, “yes, this is good enough. Stop here and let it go.”

  5. Thank-you! I have come to understand that writing teachers need to be writers themselves – which is why this forum is sooooo important. Art teachers are also artists, music teachers also musicians. Shouldn\’t writing teachers also be writers?
    Thanks again for taking your time to guide us.

    1. I love that statements “art teachers are also artists, music teachers also musicians. shouldn’t writing teachers also be writers?” Thanks for sharing that nugget of trusth!

    2. I have written your comment in my writer’s notebook. I truly believe it’s difficult to teach writing if you’re not a writer to being with. You don’t have to be a great writer you just need to go through the process. I find some of my pieces I struggle with the most become the best mentor texts.

  6. Good morning. Thank you so much for your time today! My question is as follows:
    If you have written a manuscript and you want to take the chance on (gulp) trying to publish it…where the heck do you start?

    1. Lisa, I have this same question–I am reading an AWESOME self-published novel by a friend and keep thinking, “Somebody should be publishing this for her!”

    2. Cutting and pasting this short list from a list of resources I give out when I do appearances. Here are just a few good places to start:

      On finding an agent and how to query:
      Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents
      Publishers Marketplace (Robert Lee Brewer)

      Contests & writing motivation:

    3. Hi Lisa & Anne – I’m going to assume that you’re asking about how to get published with a traditional publishing house like Penguin or Simon & Schuster. There’s a TON of information out there, but it can get overwhelming, so I’m going to give you one place to start: http://www.agentquery.com/. There are a ton of great articles here about getting published. Start with these and bookmark the site for when you’re ready to start querying agents. You’ll likely want to start with agents rather than going straight to publishers.

    4. The website that was more helpful to me than any other when I began to try and unravel the world of children’s publishing is http://verlakay.com

      I really think that community is a big part of what keeps us going as we seek that dream. Writing requires silence and solitude, but climbing that mountain (I think I can, I think I can) requires friends and cheerleaders and peers.

      The bulletin boards at verlas were a big part of how I got early info about agents and things, but more than that… the people I met there became my friends! (and still are)

      1. I’ve got to make a plug for SCBWI. I am not published (yet) but joining up was the best professional and personal thing I’ve ever done. I have found more resource and help there (about teaching writing, too) than in some of the well-known educational forums.

    5. Yes!! Thank you so much! I love how in the writing community people are so willing to share!! I will pass on these resources to my friend!

  7. As a sixth grade teacher, I struggle with helping students realize that writing improves with revision. Most of my students hit that last period and think “I’m done!” and really don’t take time to read their writing critically to make improvements. Even though I always try to offer positive encouragement, it’s hard. I try to model how I rewrite all the time…any suggestions on how to help students understand that rewriting/revision is part of the process and not something bad?

    1. When I visit schools, I show a picture — a two-foot stack of paper made up of only some of the different versions of THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES. It seems to be a pretty powerful image.

      I didn’t always buy in to the true revision process, didn’t understand it. And I struggled with acceptance. Then I took a workshop where an author went through side-by-side, pre- and post-edited manuscript pages. It was a lightbulb moment.

      If you do write, I’d create such an example. Show your students your rough draft, warts and all, then go through your changes (and reasons for those) and let them read the polished project.

      If you don’t write, contact me. I’ll see what I might be able to drum up for you.

      1. I’ve done this with my kids, and the scariest part is showing the first draft. My 6th grade students do need constant reminders, but they gain so much when they see that no one – not even the real, live authors they love, gets it right the first time.
        I learned this from author visits by Paul Acamapora. He will be working with my kids for the third year on this very topic.
        So glad we are all on the same page!

      2. I can’t improve on what Jody said, but yeah, everyone gets edited. No such thing as a perfect first draft. And that’s true of all writers.

    2. Thanks to all of you for your great ideas and comments. Erin, I love the video. I will show it to my class. Thanks so much!

  8. Laurel – You have published both novels and picture books. Which do you find more challenging? How do you go about finding someone to critique your work that is not a ‘friend’, ‘relative’, etcetera?

    1. Hey Sandra!

      The two forms are SO different, and they occupy really different spaces in my life.

      Picture books feel like poems to me. I dash them off and let them sit and come back to them later. Often they don’t work out AT ALL, and that’s fine. I figure someday I’ll figure out how to fix each of them. SO there’s a lightness to them, a playfulness. I probably write 20 picture books for each one I actually send out.

      Novel are marathons, and I can’t have the same light feeling about them, because the investment is so great. So they’re heavy, heavy HEAVY once I’m in the middle of them. I hate them and fight them and curse them. And then, when they’re done, it’s the greatest feeling of accomplishment in the world.

      So each form really occupies a different space in my life.

      As for the second question– now it’s easy, because I have a circle of friends who happen to be authors. I have some folks I send picture books to, and some I send novels to. Kate recently read (and gave me great notes on) a chapter book!

      But before I had those resources, I DID turn to friends and family for advice. They might not be writers, but they’re readers, and at the very least they were able to tell me, “Hey, yeah, that’s not boring.” I always ask people, in the beginning, “I don’t need specific advice. Just tell me– did it READ LIKE A REAL BOOK? DId you fall into it?” Just knowing if someone was able to get lost in a manuscript is a good place to start.

      Beyond that, I highly recommend verlakay.com and the tuesday night twitter chats, for building a group of friends who will read for you!

      1. Thank you for your reply. I have a YA book I self published and as I was writing I had a student read parts and tell me what she thought. First response was, “You write like a teacher”. That took a while to understand, but I finally figured it out (dialogue). She also pointed out inconsistencies. I find that if I’m writing for teens they can pick out the inconsistencies quicker sometimes. As for the picture book I am working on one with my 7 year old granddaughter. It is so much more difficult to plan out. I feel I have to cram so much into so little space. Are there books you recommend for picture book writing or should I just continue to go the way I am?

  9. Thank you so much for taking your time to share with us today.

    Does the writing take you into the idea for the text?

    Or does the idea for the text take you into the writing?

    1. Hi Kathy! I find my story through the writing. Usually, I start with an idea and a few plot points, but it’s through sitting down and writing books, scene by scene, that I find out what REALLY happens and who my characters are. I’m often surprised by how the story unfolds and this, for me, is the true joy of writing. 😀

    2. I think everyone is different when it comes to this, and for me, it’s usually some little tiny piece of the puzzle that starts me going. Often it’s a question I want to answer. Sometimes it’s a turn of phrase. Then I sit with it, and it grows.

      With my last novel, Bigger than a Bread Box, the book began with a simple question about how a kid would handle magic that posed an ethical dilemma. The rest of the book grew from there.

      My first book, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, started with a character description.

      And Any Which Wall really just began as a title!

  10. Question about online content: when you write a blog and publish a poem or short story on your blog, should you always include your name and the copyright symbol at the end or is the content automatically copyrighted to me? Any advice?

    1. Jaana, good question. I’m not sure of the answer to this, but most sites/blogs have a little copyright disclaimer at the bottom…Maybe someone else has an answer for you.

    2. Yeah, I don’t have the answer either, though my sense is that you don’t need to, if it’s clear you published it. But it can’t hurt, right?

      In general, I don’t worry about this stuff. The truth is that you can’t really protect your work online. People will use it, and it’s nice when they link back, but often they don’t. What a big new funny world we live in!

    3. I always include my name and copyright symbol with the poems I publish on the blog. I’m also big on using Creative Commons images (when I don’t use my own photos) and giving attribution for those images. I’m trying to get my students to understand that they shouldn’t just take anything they find on the internet, and the flip side of that is, there is LOTS on the internet that is licensed for them to use! I also have a Google Alert set up for my name, which allowed me to discover that one of my poems was used on another website yesterday…with proper attribution and my name and copyright included!

      1. This is correct. Copyright attaches at creation. Adding the little copyright symbol or words copyright can, I suppose, act as a deterrent, but I’m with Laurel. If people are going to steal, it’s hard to stop them. I go by the theory I’d rather be read and risk being stolen then keep my words hidden in a closet. 🙂

  11. Good morning everyone!
    My question has to do with balance. How do you balance your writing life with your family and day to day life, working, kids, etc? Does it ever ‘get easier’? Do you have to be published for the space to be valued and sacred to everyone else? Thanks you!

    1. Hi Veronica, until recently, I had a full time job and had to carve out writing time around everything else. I don\’t have kids, so I realize I have more unallocated time than other people, but I still cherish every moment spent writing. That said, having a supportive spouse made a lot of difference–he recognized that even though I wasn\’t paid/contracted to write at first, I still treated it as serious work. Other people were harder to convince, but the more serious I treated writing, the more they got the idea that it was something that was very important to me and they learned to respect that.

    2. Veronica, when I was teaching, I only wrote after my kids were in bed at night – from about 9-11 or 9-12 if I had it in me. It doesn’t sound like much, but those hours add up if you honor them and keep the date. And this was before I was published – I think saying out loud to your family, “This is important to me” can go a long way toward helping them to honor that time, too.`

      1. Hi Veronica,
        I think we all tend to put family or our paid profession first at the beginning, and writing gets the scraps. Here’s the realization that made a huge difference with me: When you write you are teaching your kids–by example– how to follow their dreams. You are walking the walk. This reminder helped me put writing higher on the priority list.

  12. This is more of a curious question. We play with vocabulary in 6th grade Language Arts. I was wondering if you have a favorite word. It doesn’t have to be spectacular or fancy, just a word that appeals to you because it is fun to say, has personal meaning or you think it is cool. Thanks!

    1. Oh, that is a great question! My students think I am nuts sometimes (well, most of the time) when I stop and marvel at the sound of word. I make them notice terrific words so they see the power of our language!

    2. I love this question too! My favorite word is phalanges. Doesn’t it have a great sound? We talk about favorite words a lot in my sixth grade classes too! There’s a terrific picture book about this too. It’s called The Boy Who Loved Words (written by by Roni Schotter and Giselle Potter). I highly recommend it!

      1. All this talk of words makes me think of another wonderful picture book: Max’s Words, by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov. I use it when we talk about where story ideas can come from in my library classes with young kids.

    3. What a fun question! (And Gae, I love calliope, too!)
      I’ve always loved pesto (though not to eat) and recently, I’m a huge fan of panacea (which made it into a book). Also, serendipitous for how it sounds.

    4. I have a lot of them, and I know it because they tend to appear too often in my work.

      Stutter, sigh, and shush come to mind.

      But I also get fixated on tiny differences in words. Like “last” and “stay.” What they mean, and when to use them… that is a big part of writing for me.

    5. I tell my students one of my favorite words is basidiomycete from AP biology in high school. I just love how it sounds when I say it. I also like it because they have no idea it means mushroom.

      1. Funny how certain words bring forth a specific memory. In second grade I had students bring in a word each week they thought was cool. ‘Jeremy’ brought in ‘serendipity’. I will always associate that word with that incredible young man!

  13. I am not sure there are stories lurking inside me but I know I can write short lively essays all day long. How do you find a forum for that type of writing? Or might that just be the precursor to other types of writing? I guess I am not sure there is value to the type of writing I am good at.

    1. Hi Gretchen, I’m not personally familiar with a lot of this kind of writing, but I know there are plenty of outlets for it. Op ed pieces are always popular – check out The Huffington Post and maybe some other people can offer ideas on where else to look. Essays definitely have their own value and not necessarily just precursors to other kinds of writing.

      1. Thanks, Joanne. I am not ruling out other forms of writing but this is what I know I do best right now. Maybe Teachers Write will be the catalyst I need! I especially appreciate you taking the time to comment. 🙂

    2. You sound like a blogger waiting in the wings!

      Seriously, if you have things to say about the world around you, and enjoy that kind of work, you can just start a blog. Nowadays, with Facebook, I think it’s very easy for readers to circulate and find new work on smaller blogs, so you often get as many reders that way as you would at a magazine.

      1. Laurel, you may be right! I started a blog yesterday. I was motivated to keep writing and wanted a place to hold my thoughts! I will see where it takes me! Appreciate your feedback immensely. I went to your blog. I loved hearing your voice in the posts I read.

        1. Thank you! I first blogged around 1999. It’s changed a lot since then, and I’m less frequent now, but it’s a good way to keep up with yourself!

  14. Good morning! Thanks so much for your time today! I find that many of my students want to jump right into writing drafts and really don’t want to do any pre-writing. I was always the same way as a young writer. I like to talk to my students about what published authors are doing. How much time would you estimate that you spend on pre-writing before you begin a first draft?

    1. Um, zero? Unless you call thinking about stuff time spent pre-writing (I do some of that, but not too much). Every writer is different in how they start off But like I said above, for me, I learn the story through writing it. That means there’s more work to do later, layering in details and fixing things, but to start a first draft, I just sit down and start writing it.

      1. Thanks, Joanne! It’s good to know that that can be “OK.” It’s important for kids to have the strategies, but also important for them to know that not every writer does the job the same way. Thanks again!

    2. My asnwer is the same as Joanne’s, actually.

      I end up going back, as I struggle through my draft, and realize where I’ve made mistakes– where my sense of the character is thin, or where the pacing is wrong. THEN I do my prewriting.

      But bear in mind, I’m self taught with fiction. If someone had shown me these tricks before I write a novel, I bet I’d use them. ANd spent less time on them.

      1. my answer is the same as laurel’s which is the same as Joanne’s. Zero. Who can prewrite when we are jonesing to dive in. It’s when the glory of the initial idea leads you to that first wall where you think, “um, what was i writing?” that you start those other processes. Having said that, of course in teaching writing vs. just writing, there could be many good reasons to prewrite. I would think testing both in the classroom could be a cool project! 😉

        1. Laurel and Gae – wow! Thanks! It’s very interesting to know that perhaps it’s OK to go with our instincts and just start where we’re comfortable. I definitely still want to teach prewriting so that the kids who need it have that strategy. It’s never been my style to FORCE kids to do something a certain way if it’s not necessary, so it’s good to know that in the “real world” writers don’t always sit down and prewrite either. Thanks and thanks!

    3. Weeks.
      That said, you cannot see my pre-writing outside a few notes jotted on Post-Its or envelope backs. My pre-writing takes place in my head.

      For weeks, I let the ideas for plot and character tumble around. Then, when I hear the main guy’s voice and he has something interesting to say, I open a new file and start typing.

    4. Quite often, I’ll start a draft, then stop to plan/outline, and keep going back and forth between the two. So often, we think of writing as a really linear process, and it’s not…at least not for me.

      1. Thanks, Kate! That is definitely something I try to impress on my students. Whenever they’re stuck, I’ll encourage them to pull that prewriting back out and examine it. “What were you thinking? Does that still work or should you go somewhere else? Let’s plan out this next part at little more carefully.” It works wonders for some of them, and others are more like Gae and Laurel and Joanne – they just want to work it out within the story. I always used to be a jump-into-the-draft kind of writer, but I’m having trouble coming up with an idea I love that I can work on during this workshop. So, I’ve started with a lot of prewriting to get the juices flowing. Thanks so much for everyone’s answers! It’s awesome that you are all willing to take the time to chat with us!

    5. Hi Kerri,
      In my classroom based research (I have taught grades 1-3), I find some writers need a graphic organizer of sorts and other don’t want to use one. I can sparse out those kids quickly that might benefit from using one during writing conferences and teach small groups how to use one. I have taught it whole group before and expected everyone to use it and got terrible results. That’s when I discovered some writers just want/need to sit down and write. I find the talking they do before they write to be beneficial. That’s why when you enter my writer’s workshop, you’ll see writers writing, writers talking about what they are going to write, writers conferring mid-way through a piece to ask a friend for help or to just listen and see how their writing sounds. I find those that do need an organizer need help creating one and never seem to be independent at doing it, but their stories are much better than without one. (That’s at the 2nd grade level).

  15. I’ve been writing a novel for awhile and stuck in the middle. Thanks to Teachers Write, I’m getting back in and now think the rest of the story reveals itself to the main character through journal entries. I’ve read books like this in the past, but was wondering how you balance journal entries and action together while still moving your reader along? I don’t want it to get boring.

    1. Hi Christine, great question! Journal entries can be a powerful tool to help the reader get inside the head of your character. BUT there needs to be a really good reason for each and every one to be there. If you can take one out and the reader won’t lose anything from it being missing, there’s probably not much reason to keep it in. The journal doesn’t have to be full of action (it is, after all, a journal) but it must tell the reader something they wouldn’t find out elsewhere. That can be personal thoughts and feelings, but they have to be important, relevant and not rambly. Hope that makes sense!

      1. This is a good answer. I’ve never worked with journal entries before, and so I don’t have much to add. I always like books with journals and letters and things in them!

        1. Thank you both! I’m feeling that I need to actually write the whole journal and THEN pick the parts that need to be in the book. I’m feeling that will help me flesh out both the character and the plot pieces better. Because I agree, only the relevant pieces need to be there for the reader. I’m so excited! Thanks again.

  16. I am my own worst critic. I feel like my writing is too descriptive…is that possible?

    1. Kim, I’m sure every writer will say they are their own worst critic! The easy answer to your question is yes, your writing can be too descriptive – if it bogs down your story or feels like overkill, try paring it down some. I usually have the opposite problem and write very short and bare bones, so I’m probably not the best person to help with how best to edit for that, but that you recognize it is half the battle!

      1. Kim, I would just add that the paring down might come in the revision. If your natural voice is very descriptive, maybe go with it, then walk away from the piece, really give it room and yourself time to forget all your words, and come back to it and read it with a fresh eye. See if you can cut back description that slows the story down and isn’t needed. Also, read aloud into a webcam and play it back. Sometimes that is very revealing! 😉

    2. It is possible. While some love the overly descriptive Dickens, for example, others skim past the wordiness to get to the plot. (He did have an excuse, though, He was paid by the word.)

      What you may need to do, Kim, is to go through each scene, make a list of the different things you describe — in terms of character, setting, action — or even use different colors to highlight that in the text, and decide what is essential to move your story along.

      If there are passage that seem non-essential to you, cut those ruthlessly, but paste them into a separate document. That way, after you’ve taken a breather, you can reread your story with fresh eyes,see if you miss the description … then reinstate it if you do.

  17. I am finished with my first middle grade contemporary fantasy novel and will soon be ready to submit to agents. I have a query letter ready and also a book proposal, if needed. How many agents would you recommend I query at one time?

    1. Hi Liz, I find it’s best to do rounds of queries in batches. Say of 10 at a time so you can see if they’re working to get you requests and see if you need to tweak your query or sample pages. By book proposal, do you mean sample pages? I’m of the mind that you should always include about 10 pages of the opening of your book pasted into your query e-mail, unless the agent’s guidelines say specifically not to. Good luck!

      1. I was going to say 10 too! The main thing is to be clear with them, and to be prepared to have to decline an exclusive. That happened to me– a “dream” agent wanted a few weeks with it alone, and I had already sent it to other people.

  18. I’m so excited about the opportunity to ask questions of authors. Thank you for taking the time to do this. How does starting a novel begin for you? What I mean is what does it look like? What do you start with? Character? Plot? And do you know the ending as you begin? (I know that I’ve asked a lot of questions, but I just got carried away.) Again, THANK YOU!

    1. Michelle, just quickly scrolling through here before I get to my writing work today… will let the fab guest authors answer this, but tell you also that my guest author on Friday Feedback this week will be discussing just this! Hooray! 🙂

      1. Thanks Gae! So many questions floating around in my head! I just finished a great book (Winger) and got a chance to video chat with Andrew Smith. Authors are GOOD people! Can’t wait to read more about this on Friday too!

        1. Michelle, I finished Winger this week too, but couldn’t get the Shindig thing to work at home last night, so missed the video chat, which was very disappointing! I LOVED Winger, especially the last page and Ryan Dean’s thoughts about words.

          1. Kelly, The video chat was good! I couldn’t put Winger down, but I struggle with the ending. (Don’t want to say too much and spoil it.) I’d love to chat about it. 🙂

      2. Each of my books started with a different inspiration. THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES was the result of my eavesdropping on a conversation with an elementary school librarian and a 5th grade teacher. THE SEVENTH LEVEL came as a result of my fascination for secret societies. One of my works-in-progress started with a story that my father’s uncle once told us.

        Ideas, I tell students, tend to float around the universe. It’s up to us to recognize them and mine them and nurture them and change them and shape them into fascinating stories.

    2. Hi Michelle, for me, every book is different in how it starts. With SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, it began with the title. With a YA I’m working on, it started with the final line of the book and I worked backward from that. But usually, I have a ‘what if’ statement in my head and work to answer that through the book, starting with maybe four or five plot points that I’ll hit through the book. I’ll be honest here and tell you that with my lack of plotting and planning, it’s always a hot mess at the beginning, but it’s usually a fun ride. It’s the revisions that kill me.

      1. Yep, me too!

        If you scroll up I answered this for another question… but the answer is the same. Something “sparks” a book each time, but it can be anything– a character I can’t shake, a question I want to answer, a line of text that becomes a title, a scene or setting… sorry not to have a clearer answer.

  19. In my school district, my third-graders have to write two “small moment” personal narratives. I have a really hard time finding good mentor texts that fit the bill. Any suggestions? The problem I run into is that the stories have to cover only a very short time span (like 20 minutes to an hour). Thanks!

    1. We have the same assignment in our district, and as the librarian, I get requests for mentor texts like this. I’ve been stumped, too. The kids want to write those “bed-to-bed” narratives. One pre-writing exercise I suggested was to have the kids storyboard their narratives (in maybe 6 cells or so,) and then choose one cell to actually zoom in and describe, using all their senses. Come to think of it, that might not be a bad way to get me started…

    2. Oh, how interesting! It’s such a wonderful exercise, and one I’ve set adult writing students to do often.

      I can think of wonderful adult books that do this so well (like Jo Ann Beard), but they’re probably not appropriate for third grade.

      I’ll poke around and see what I can find.

    3. I will keep my eyes out, too. Meanwhile, I’m certain (though not coming up with anything specific at this second) that you should be able to find scenes in different novels to illustrate that.

      Or maybe we authors should write up a bunch of them 🙂

    4. Jack Gantos has JACK’S BLACK BOOK, which is essentially a bunch of little memoirs – moments from when he was a kid – and this might work.

    5. ShrylAnn–
      I teach 5th Grade, and my students write two small moment narratives as well. It is difficult to find books written in that small amount of time. I use mostly picture books.

      Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
      Knufflebunny by Mo Willems
      Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe

      I have also used novels and chapter books to teach the small moment idea. For example, in Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix (one of my faves!!!), the majority of the story takes place a period of maybe 3 days. I have taken scenes from it to demonstrate that idea. That novel might be a bit above 3rd graders, but I have done the same thing with other novels, like Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

      I hope this helps!

    6. I love “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark” by Sandra Cisneros for a small moment mentor text.

  20. As a writing teacher and a writer, I sometimes find that my teacher self gets in the way of my writer self. When I write, my teacher-me casts doubt over every line and every bend in my writing, and I find that self over analyzing the writing instead of just allowing it to emerge. So frustrating! can’t seem to be the same nurturing., patient writing coach to my writer self as I am to my own students! How to surmount that, is my question – how to allow that teacher self to help, not impede, the writer self? Any thoughts?!

    1. Tara, have you read Stephen King’s ON WRITING? In it, he talks about writing with the door closed – this is his process for his first draft where he writes on his own and very quickly, putting down his story as it comes to mind. “I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.” Set your teacher self outside that door when you write your initial draft and you may surprise your teacher self what you come up with when you allow her to read it later (and help with grammar) ;-).
      By the way, for anyone with this book, I found this passage in the hardcover version on page 209 – part 11 of the section ‘On Writing’. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is either interested in any kind of writing, or who might be interested in the story of a man who was truly born to write. I recognize his books aren’t for everyone, but I can’t imagine a more hardworking, committed writer than Mr. King.

      1. I think this is how most of us TRY to work. But it’s hard for me too. I began as a poet, and that very tight revision method I used for poetry can destroy a novel before I’ve begun.

        One thought it to try working longhand. The computer makes it so easy to revise as you go. It’s much harder with a pen and paper, and so you just keep at it.

        Good luck! I know this particular problem so well!.

  21. Good morning! There are so many techniques to teach the writing process.Which is the essential way to teach the writing process from Pre-k to 12 grade? Thank you

    1. Oh, I doubt there is one essential method. I think the answer is “whatever fits you best as a teacher.”

      I think what feels important to me, that isn’t always in the classroom, is that kids are taught the PLAY of writing. That they’re allowed to enjoy it, to do assignments without grades. That they journal and explore.

      Writing is like reading in this way. Kids need to know how important it is. They need to do it well, for success later on. But if they don’t know how to LIKE it, they lose a lot.

      1. Thank you Laurel! Love your insight, what you said is true writing is like reading, you need to like it first!

  22. This is a very general question for anyone who has a blog. How do you get readers? My friends read it, but Only because i asked them to. I’ve posted the link on twitter but I don’t have many followers, and even though I asked for feedback, I had no comments.

    1. Patti, before answering I guess I need to ask what type of blog you have (its purpose) and what are your goals for it? I have a reading blog where I review books. I have had it for about 5 years and have 215 followers. However, I connect to several other places as well such as Facebook and Twitter, Edmodo. Some of those people read my feed but are not signed up as followers. There are many places you can google to get help with getting followers such as Pro Blogger. Don’t know if this helped but I’m willing to answer any questions you have if I can.

    2. Patti,

      I think the answer in this era of online communities is that you need to write a few really DAZZLING pieces, with relatively provocative or timely subjects, and then get the friends who read your blog to post it to facebook and Twitter (or whatever the kids are doing these days).

      I think people are less likely to “read blogs” today then they are to read their Facebook feed.

  23. Plotter? or Pants-er?? Depending on which method you use for writing your novel? Plot each point, or write by the seat of your pants? If you plot, how detailed do you get in your plotting? If you pants, when/how often do you find yourself backtracking and losing big parts of your original writing due to a plot twist that you find yourself excising big parts of what you’ve already written?

    Sorry it’s so many questions, but they’re sort of all related, yes?

    1. Hi Jessica! Haven’t seen you on Twitter lately – but very happy to see you here!
      I’m a total pantser. I start with 4 or 5 plot points and just write. I’ve tried the other way, but my brain just doesn’t want to cooperate. I rarely lose big stuff later, but more often find myself layering in details and tweaking stuff to fit what happens later. I write pretty short and very linearly, so I guess I pretty much keep to my initial framework, but add in more details upon revising.

    2. I’m more and more a plotter with each book. BUT (and this is important) the outline ALWAYS changes. As I write, I get to know my characters better and better. As I “meet” them the story changes, because their motivations 9and so the choices they make) change. By the end of the first draft, I’ve almost always altered the outline completely. But I keep revising it, tracking that. The outline is as much a way of keeping track of my own thoughts and notes as it is a PLAN.

      Does that make sense?

    3. Thanks, everyone, for your answers! Laurel, it totally makes sense, thank you for the insight. I’m constantly at odds with my own process for longer pieces – such a mess! Michelle, I wish I could take credit for those terms, but they are widely used on the NaNoWriMo website and through that community of writers. They are a HOOT! Joanne, yeah, that whole teaching thing really messes with my social media time 😉 I had to choose btwn Twitter and FB, so I’ve been slowly getting back into the game this summer. BTW, every kid who checked out SMaL from my classroom library this year enthused about it, and ALL of them loved the bookmarks!

  24. Good morning everyone! Thank you for spending the day reading and responding to questions. Would you mind shedding any light on how you can help teachers/faculty begin to move towards the writing process model: brainstorming, drafting, editing, publishing? I work with many faculty who believe they are doing this, but many assign prompts and then teacher edit the work.
    I’d love any thoughts on this….

    1. Oh, this is a good question.

      Is it because it’s just easier that way?

      I’d think that having the student work in groups, to workshop and critique each other, might be a big part of the process. Having a teacher tell you “what’s wrong” is hard to ignore. You’ve been trained to do what they say.

      But if a group of peers have advice for you, and they don’t all agree, you’re left with the project of having to sort it out yourself…

      1. Piggybacking on Laurel’s answer, I’d also suggest writing up a flexible set of critique prompts; questions peer editors can ask themselves or the author when they get together.

        What do you know about the main character? What would you like to know? Do the character’s actions reflect his/her personality?

        Can you visual the setting? What other sensory details can you add?

        Do you understand the story? Do any actions need more explanation? Less?

        And this list can go on and on.

    2. I have worked with teachers as well. They read and discuss Writers workshop but can’t re produce it in the classroom because they are not all writers themselves. I did mini workshops throughout a school year having the teachers write and conference with each other so they understand the process from the inside. It took time but really helped when teachers had to write small moments, or write poetry. The idea that teachers of writing need to write is still new in the elementary grades. I have been pushing this for 39 years of teaching. We are getting closer. Look at how many of us are on line this summer writing. Yeah! And thanks everyone for the great work!

  25. I have a general question about writers notebooks. We heard from Kate on Monday about hers, and I’m wondering if either of you keep them and if so, how they contribute to your writing process. This is something I talk with my students about. Thanks again for your time.

    1. Hi Kimc, I don’t have a notebook. Actually, that’s not true, I do have several that I buy and get excited about and then write four or five lines in and then quickly abandon. I’m just not the kind of person who keeps journals and notebooks, though I really wish I was. That said, I’m a lover of sticky notes. I have them all over my desk and would show you a picture, but I’m embarrassed at the mess. True story.

        1. You know, I did take a picture, but realized I also like to keep bank and other password/personal type info on sticky notes, so figured that wasn’t wise to share on the internet…

    2. Yes, totally!

      I have a little tiny one in my wallet, and then a bigger one in my purse. I also keep a tape recorder in my glovebox, for when I have thoughts while driving, but can’t stop to write things down. And then I have one by my bed (for late night thoughts that often make no sense in the morning)

      For me, the notebook is mostly just about forcing myself to remember my idea. I find that once I write it down I don’t forget it.

      The other thing is that in today’s world, the “down time” in our lives is often the in-between moments. Lying in bed, falling asleep. Or stuck in traffic. This is as silent as the world ever gets for me. I need my notebooks so I can hold onto the good things that come out of those quiet times.

  26. This is more of a teaching question, I am going to be teaching Kindergarten in the fall for the 1st time, and I am wondering where is a good place to start with them and their writing? What are some mini lessons I should start with? I am debating the idea of them having a “writers notebook” and letting writing be as open ended as they want, but since this will be their first exposure to writing anything, I am not completely sure that is a good idea. I’d love some advice on this!

    1. My sons go to a school where the kindergarteners have a chance each day to “write in their journal.” It’s been wonderful (and let’s be honest– adorable) to see this document evolve. In the beginning they’ve each “written” entirely in pictures. By year’s end, they’re starting to make a hybrid of words and art. It’s pretty amazing, and the parents love having that to keep. Highly recommend!

      Everyone has a story to tell. IMHO, letting kids know that at a young age is something they’ll carry with them forever. It isn’t just about literacy, also about self esteem.

    2. Sometimes, drawing is a good starting place for primary writers – and then the prompt, “Tell me about your drawing” leads to story, and kids can begin to write down what they told you.

      1. Kate the next step to words and pictures might be the idea of a train (think three boxes). The engine is our beginning of the story. The next car is our middle and the caboose is the end. It’s a great pattern to begin to model later in the school year. When kids get older I add cars in between to full out our story. It seems to help if you keep using that formate.

  27. To piggyback on Kim’s post is there a particular type of notebook you would recommend for students as far as a writer’s notebook goes? This is something I want to implement this year in my classroom.

    1. I love old fashioned composition books. Nostalgia, totally. But also, it’s important that they can’t rip out pages. EVERYTHING is worth saving. It’s a chance for them to understand their work as PROCESS and not product.

      1. I agree with you, Laurel. I love the composition notebooks. They are easy for the kids to go sit on the floor and write with because they are sturdy. I like to have my writers find their “writing spot” in my room. Composition books do the trick but are never to leave my room. That way they always have them ready to go.

    2. I would suggest anything that makes the students feel happy and creative. Sometimes when I’m handwriting ideas, I like using individual sheets of paper. Other times I use a bound journal or a spiral notebook or envelope backs. I understand you need to be more organized in school, but again, I would suggest setting loose parameters then allowing the students to choose within them.

    3. Mead makes a nice Primary Journal. Each page has a large space for drawing illustrations and blue lines to write setences on (including middle dotted lines) and a red ink baseline for letter positioning. Includes an area on front of journal for student’s name. Geared at K-2nd

      1. My daughter is using the Mead journal and it is perfect for primary grades. Our district has the primary grades use multiple small notebooks throughout the year. Most are paper stapled together. A notebook can be overwhelming for some primary students. If they have many smaller booklets, they feel more successful.

  28. Just a note here – I’m not a teacher and don’t really know a lot about teaching, so I’m going to leave the teaching related questions for those who will have more insight. I’m not ignoring you awesome people with your clever teaching questions! (And I’m paying attention to the answers, too, because I’m very interested.)

  29. Good morning and as many have said, thank you for helping field these questions. I find that as I write, I am consistently filled with self-doubt and a strong belief that the piece I am working on is not quality writing. How does a writer overcome this obstacle? On the same page, I believe students oftentimes struggle with the same issue…how do I assist them in overcoming their own self-destructing tendencies and insecurities?

    1. I hate to say this, but for me that’s ongoing. I always doubt the work. The trick is to keep at it anyway!

      Writing is finding out what you didn’t know you knew– it’s a process of discovery. It helps me to think of it like that. I’m not being “wrong” or making “mistakes.” I’m just on a journey, letting the words do their work. You have to clear the clutter out of the way to get to what you “didn’t know you knew.”

    2. Hi Amber, many writers (if not all) feel this way. Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Accept this and remember that any book you pick off a shelf has been edited by a bunch of people over many passes. Allow yourself to not be perfect–it’s liberating. Have you read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD? She has a whole section called “crappy” first drafts. This book is an amazing resource I highly recommend along with Stephen King’s ON WRITING, which I mentioned above.

      1. Two of my favorite, inspirational books for writing help, Joanne- ON WRITING and BIRD BY BIRD. Anothe rthat is giving my good meaty exercises is STEERING the CRAFT by Ursula K LeGuin. I am full up with ideas today! I can’t possibly read all the questions and comments here – but man, it’s worth a try!

    3. I have become more knowledgeable through attending writing conferences through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), through a local writing organization called The Loft Literary Center, and through a critique group that was established through other writers I met in a writing class one summer. This has given me the confidence to try new things, to listen to writers who are going through the same experiences, and to learn more about my passion.

      In 2011 I was selected as the recipient of a year long mentorship through SCBWI. I was able to work closely with a local author to polish up a novel that I had started on my own. This gave me the confidence to revise my manuscript when I was starting to doubt myself and my abilities.

      Lastly, I occasionally read about writers on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. When Jane Yolen posts that she has received a rejection letter, even though I’m not sure how that can be possible, it makes you feel like we are all in the same boat as a writing community. All we need to remember is to keep doing what we love and to persevere.

    4. Amber, if you scroll up to #8, one of the links I gave was to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I think doing something like this can really give you some idea of whether your writing is good (plus the kind of feedback you’ll get here all summer on TW!) and, for me, since the critiques and PRAISE was coming from total strangers, and there was enough of it, I really began to believe again that I could actually write. So I think the more you put your writing out there and engage, and the more you get positive feedback, the less self doubt you will have if you have real writing talent. On the other hand, occasional criticism should not UNDERMINE your self confidence because writing is WHOLLY subjective. And as everyone has said, we are all always struggling with self doubt.

    5. Hi Amber,
      One of the techniques I’ve use is to put a large piece of butcher paper on your wall in the fall, and each time you have student writing, select a few “Moments of Magic” to write on the paper. (One teacher called hers a “Quote Wall.” ) Add magical “Wow” phrases from books the class reads as well. Seeing their words on the wall with published authors definitely builds confidence–and you have a great display by Open House. : )

  30. In one of the earlier posts I saw someone mention Lucy Caulkins for teaching writing in the classroom. I teach middle school. For the last two years I had students participate in NaNoWriMo. I downloaded their free workbook. They have one for elementary, middle and one for high school. For those students who don’t think they can write, they see through the workbook that they are lessons that we teach in school anyway and it is done in a fun manner. This was enough encouragement for some of them.,

  31. As the reading and writing standards change, it seems as the writing pieces are more prescibed pieces (narrative, descriptive, persuasive, expository) and there is less creative writing. I truly believe that the students’ writing abilities improve when they engage in more creative writing, but I struggle to find time in my 75 minute block of language arts for creative writing (if I take them through the writing process on one of the writing pieces from above it takes about three weeks). Any suggestions or ideas on how to incorporate more creative writing into my classroom would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

      1. I keep a copy of Spilling Ink on my book shelf at home and at school. I have given away 20+ copies over the last two years. I just ordered Breakfast on Mars and will definitely check it out.

    1. We use Edmodo at our school. It is like a safe Facebook for schools. I have created a “Wriiting with Stiles” class. I post writing prompts there and let students respond. I posted a couple of paragraphs of my own writing and then asked students to respond to it. Some of their creative thought processes will wow you.

    1. I just finished BOMB by Steven Scheinkin. Now I’m in the middle of ENCHANTED by Alathea Kontis, one of the authors on a panel I’ll be moderating for Heather Brewer’s Less Than Three Conference (on bullying).

      Next up, probably an adult mystery. I’m about to start working on something new, and I’ve found it’s easier to read books in a totally different voice during that part of my process.

      1. I just finished a wonderful (adult) novel called A Nearly Perfect Copy, by Allison AMend, and I’m reading a book of essays on poetry called Madness, Rack and Honey. For younger readers I’m about to read a new book called Lara’s Gift.

    2. Hi Kathy, thanks for asking! I’m actually taking a college course right now, so most of my reading time is spent on a text for that, but I am devoting this summer to some classics: Hatchet, Matilda and Charlotte’s Web are at the top of my reading list. I also just read a friend’s manuscript that was AMAZING, but I can’t talk about that just yet. 😉

  32. Just finished reading Balance by Nik Wallenda and The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda. I’m getting ready to start Prey the sequel to The Hunt, Hate List by Jennifer Brown and Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser

      1. I know she is and I’m excited. I had to wait until the end of the school year to take it home. It would get put in my check in box and then someone would bring it up and say, “I need the card to check it out”. Looking forward to reading it.

  33. In my writing when describing a person, place or thing I tend to list characteristics, qualities or descriptions using commas. Do you have suggestions of ways to break this habit? Thanks in advance.

    1. I find that a list of details is often standing in for one great, apt image. One thing you can do is to take the most clear adjective in that list and try to build it out into an image or metaphor. Or describe what the thing/person is DOING rather than how they look.

      1. Great advice from Laurel here and I agree. Focus in on one thing, the most important or maybe even the most surprising/different thing. If you’re using extra words to describe something that’s not relevant or is ordinary, you might just be bogging your writing down with extra words which aren’t meaningful.

    2. I try to write some description as a vehicle to reveal characterization.
      Instead of saying she had long, dark hair with bangs, I might have the MC say …
      She thought she was so cool with all that hair flouncing behind her, but it still reminded me of my ugly Aunt Gladys who insisted on wearing a black silk scarf every freakin\’ windy day.

      Or instead of the tall building gleamed in the midday sun, maybe …
      She was walking toward her favorite building, the one that transformed the sun’s reflection into 27 stories of spotlights shining, she imagined, only on her.

      Neither are great, but it does give you a sense of how you can turn description into characterization … which is rarely boring.

  34. I am interested in writing picture books. How do you write a childrens story without being too wordy but still be entertaining?

    1. Laura,
      There’s a reason I write novels 🙂

      And I’m certain someone with more PB success will chime in, but I can start by saying that you need to remember the ‘picture’ in picture books. Remember that they can fill in many story gaps. As the author (and not an author/illustrator, I assume?), you will have little to no control over what the illustrations will include, but you still need to think like the person who will supplement your words.

    2. Well, the rule of thumb is that you should NOT go over 1000 words, and actually it’s better to stick closer to around 600. So just set that as a goal to begin with, and lay out your story.

      But also, yes, what Jody says. Bear in mind all the things that will be part of the art. You don’t want to state too much of what the reader will already be able to see.

      Picture books are so very different from one another. It’s hard to offer basic rules. Often the thing that holds a picture book together is less a story and more a concept or a character.

    3. Hi Laura,
      If you’ve already written your story, it often helps to “dummy” it out. In other words, experiment by separating your text into 28 sections, each of which would be a page. Typically, a picture book is 32 pages, but the main story is presented in 28 pages–some single spreads and some a full 2-page spread.

      Once you divide your text, check to see if:
      1. Each page will lend itself to an illustration.
      2. The text on the right side “hooks’ the reader into wanting to turn the page.

      This will also help you see which pages are too wordy, which words you can leave out (example you don’t need detailed descriptions of location or what your character is wearing unless it is key to the story–The illustrator will do this.

      Last but not least, read it aloud–to yourself, your dog, whomever. This will tell you where it’s too wordy as well. (Note–Those who read it aloud to your students–keep in mind they LOVE you already and thus will be thrilled by your story–so they are a great FanClub but not always the best Beta readers.

      Happy Writing!

  35. Hi- sorry for posting so late. Just catching up…My question is: It seems that writers focus on one genre. If someone writes a variety of genres, like fiction, non-fiction, poetry…can they look for one agent to handle all 3, or do they need to get an agent for each genre? AND, my favorites words to say outloud are genre and plethora! Thanks for answering all these great questions!

    1. Most agents have genres they represent and others they shy away from. Most agents, though, do represent a number of different ones. You can probably find a plethora of agents who will represent all your preferred genres. 🙂

    2. Hi Andrea, also, to add to what Jody said, if you’re writing for kids, that will usually mean an agent who handles books for children will handle all of these genres. If you’re writing for adults, you’ll want to make sure those you’re querying will handle them (though poetry might be a tough sell). Good luck!

  36. I was an English major in college. I was taught to write in sentences that had a noun, verb, etc., gramatically complete sentences. I notice in books I read that writers are no longer doing this. What do you think of this? Thanks.

    1. Hi Sharon, your question is very open-ended, so I’m going to say that I have no issue with this practice as long as it doesn’t draw me, the reader, out of the story. It’s a style thing and I’m sure some writers do it more than others and some maybe not at all. I am the kind of writer who hears her words in her head as she’s working, so I tend to use my mind’s ear to shape my writing. And like Jody says, much of this can be attributed to dialogue and we’re just being true to the flow of conversation. How do YOU feel about it? Do you find it grating as you’re reading or is it just a curiosity that it’s not what you were taught?

    2. Hi Sharon,
      I was an English major too. My husband will tell you I get annoyed by grammatically incorrect news anchors and even billboards. : ) I plan to address your question in my mini-lesson on Voice in August. The short answer is that we use different formats and sentence structures for different audiences. Since it’s summer, it might be fun to take off our “English teacher” hats and let the stories spill out in whatever form they may…
      : )

  37. Me? You want my opinion? Raises hand. Guilty.

    Most of the sentences in my books are grammatically correct; others, however, would have lowered my English grade. Here\\\’s why I do that.

    When I get into my characters\\\’ heads and write their internal dialogue, I mirror the way I express my own thoughts … and I often think in sentence fragments. The same goes for dialogue. If you listen to kids — or adults for that matter — carry on conversations, you\\\’ll notice they often speak in sentence fragments. I suppose that way of writing is my way of trying to sound authentic.

    Because I have been called out on this practice, I have become more aware of doing this. I understand how hard it must be for teachers to explain why authors can get away with this and the students can\\\’t. So now, I try to minimize the fragments unless a fragment better or more realistically expresses my characters\\\’ voices.

    Sorry 🙂

  38. Thanks for hosting this Q & A! I\’m just starting my writing but I have a friend who loves to write story arcs for TV shows. Her work is really great and she\’s shared it through writing forums. I think she should try to get some of these stories published. Would her route to publication be different because she\’s using pre-existing characters that are tied to a specific show? How would she go about this?

    1. Just happened to notice this, Julie. You may want to re-ask during the Q&A session next week if I have this wrong.

      It sounds like your friend is essentially writing fan fiction, her stories based on already-established characters or rock bands or TV shows or books. If that’s what she’s doing, she will not find a publisher.

      If she IS talented and she wants to become a published author, she will need to create original stories and characters that she can call her own.

      1. Thanks for the response, Jody! I had a feeling it wouldn’t be possible to publish her work. Her writing is so good, though, so I’ll encourage her to create original stories.